Social journalism it’s like meditation, you have to wait and breathe

Spiral Jetty - The Great Salt Lake / ©AngeloPaura

Today I finally reach an image that can help me to explain my thoughts on social journalism. I think that social j is like meditation: you have to wait and breathe, without expressing judgments. However for a journalist is not easy in the same way that meditation is difficult for beginners. You want start your story very quickly and write, write and write again.

Instead you have to hold on and put aside your will to close your piece, because there isn’t an article. You are on a hill, sit on a brown stone in front of the Great Salt Lake. You can see the Spiral Jetty as in the pic above, but you can’t sketch it on the paper, you have just to observe what is going on in front of you.

This week at the CUNY J-School we had two great class for going deep inside the social journalism approach of media.

Objectivity is not for granted. With Carrie Brown we talked about objectivity and journalism in the US press, retracing the stories of the media from the partisan years in the 1800s, to the years of objectivity, in the 20th century. This change could happen thanks to technology and economics improvement: with the telegraph and the trains the news could have a broad distribution and biggest audience. So it was extremely important to put together a message that fit for a lot of people and not only for a small fraction.

Another interesting reason of this swing is sociological: you have to be objective to defend yourself against the criticism. In this way journalism become a profession, whit standards and rules. Today, in the internet age, we have to rethink objectivity. Here are some excellent points about this issue, wrote in 2003 by Brent Cunningham on Columbia Journalism Review.

“There is no single explanation for these holes in the coverage, but I would argue that our devotion to what we call “objectivity” played a role. It’s true that the Bush administration is like a clenched fist with information, one that won’t hesitate to hit back when pressed. And that reporting on the possible aftermath of a war before the war occurs, in particular, was a difficult and speculative story.
Yet these three examples — which happen to involve the current White House, although every White House spins stories — provide a window into a particular failure of the press: allowing the principle of objectivity to make us passive recipients of news, rather than aggressive analyzers and explainers of it. We all learned about objectivity in school or at our first job. Along with its twin sentries “fairness” and “balance,” it defined journalistic standards.”

Another interesting point is a quote by Jeff Jarvis, my professor at the Cuny social journalism program. In the internet era “transparency is the new objectivity.” Jarvis says that being transparent for a journalist should be a standard and moreover is what readers want from reporters. On the same wave David Weinberger in a blog post agues that “transparency is now fulfilling some of objectivity’s old role in the ecology of knowledge.”

Outside of the realm of science, objectivity is discredited these days as anything but an aspiration, and even that aspiration is looking pretty sketchy. The problem with objectivity is that it tries to show what the world looks like from no particular point of view, which is like wondering what something looks like in the dark. Nevertheless, objectivity — even as an unattainable goal — served an important role in how we came to trust information, and in the economics of newspapers in the modern age.

Triple-Donald ©AP

Trump-0-sphere. A recent article of the NiemanLab argues that in the last 20 years all the new media sites launched “have a partisan angle.”

Axios mapped the launch dates of 89 digital outlets from 1993 to 2015 and found an explosion in the founding of right-leaning sites since 2010 that it argues can’t be fully explained by an increase in political polarization in the U.S. — it’s instead at least partially attributable to the rise of Google and Facebook; “Facebook, in particular, algorithmically favors content that appeals to user bias and interest.”

Moreover, a recent study from the Royal Society shows that “Republicans were more likely to believe Trump’s false statements when they were attributed to Trump versus unattributed; Democrats were more likely to believe Trump’s false statements when they were unattributed than when they were attributed to Trump.” This is a mess. Mentioning a Jarvis sentence “the press will destroy Trump and Trump will destroy the press”, I can add that the final result could be the partial destruction of the society.

The last from Hacking Journalism. We are living a deep transition in the media landscape. Technology changed our life and also the way that we experience news. This is a period of crisis but also a time of new opportunities, a moment to sit down and think in which way tech culture and journalism could create better synergy. For this reason I need your thoughts and questions.