The challenges facing modern journalism – and how to meet them – was the subject of the 2017 Reuters Memorial Lecture, at St Anne’s College, University of Oxford, last Friday. In We broke the news. How do we fix it? Melissa Bell, of Vox Media, said it is time for the industry to admit its own problems.
Since 1976 trust in mass media has been falling continuously. Now Google is more trusted than news organisations, Bell said. She pointed out that many news organisations lack a good business model and fail to meet the changing needs of their audiences. Another challenge facing media is the speed of technological change at a time of democratisation of news, Bell added.
Bell spoke strongly against worshipping objectivity. Objectivity is a hollow aim, a massive weak spot for journalists, she said. The emotional side of news is very important and journalists need to embrace the fact there is a huge amount of emotion in the news every day.
She identified nine key problems, including: competition over diminishing returns; a race for ratings; and frequent fights about ethics in journalism.
But Bell was also optimistic and claimed there is time to fix the problems. Fixes are at hand: be interesting and not too worried about being objective. The media should be entertaining yet not provide entertainment, she said.
She called on the industry to get to know media business better, see through the lens of explanation, and find a new business model.
Discussion following Bell’s speech was chaired by Alan Rusbridger, former editor-in-chief of The Guardian.
Panelists included Marty Baron, editor of The Washington Post, who told the audience it is easier, with hindsight, to see what went wrong in the past, but more difficult whilst in the middle of change. We tried a lot of things, there was a lot of effort, he said. The industry was changing dramatically, the burden was on us and we had to accept this.
Tom Standage, deputy editor of The Economist, said that obsession with objectivity originated in the United States in the 1920s, while Europe had always been more at ease with a partisan approach. He called for transparency and openness to be a new objectivity.
Another panellist, Ritu Kapur, Founder and CEO, The Quint, said news audiences should never under estimate their audiences. She said The Quint’s audiences are young, diverse and highly engaged in politics. Kapur said media organisations should engage more with their audiences, through conversations and comments.
This article was first published on The Baron
Pic: screenshot, Vox