TV, radio, newspapers, and online media have historically provided society with a common foundation, ensuring the flow of information, offering an arena for debate – and a handful of other functions vital to democracy.
But we live in volatile times, and developments in media and media use are changing the game.
A new research paper by Anders Hofseth sets out a number of key simple actions that can be taken in the name of democracy. Make Yourself Useful: Six simple things your newsroom can do for democracy targets newsrooms; journalists, editors and management.
Hofseth is a strategic adviser working at the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation’s NRKbeta future lab and think tank. His research is based on interviews with 18 leading figures in media and academia. It attempts to establish how the media can keep fulfilling their democratic role in this changing landscape.
“The new public sphere might have fewer shortcomings than traditional media,” Hofseth said.
“But the ecosystem that societies depend on for informing and orienting themselves is changing – with social media increasingly at the core. Traditional media need to adapt to stay relevant and present, and several of the demands on media are changing. New needs have arisen, and some developed practices are dysfunctional.”
“My research focus is on practices that can be applied within most larger newsrooms without major changes, giving closer advice on topics such as: properly understanding social media, fact checking and overview, and common mistakes that should be avoided. A lot of the suggestions are fairly simple – some things bordering on the self-evident. Still, they often aren’t done. Hopefully, the advice given here can contribute to changing that,” Hofseth added.
The following six recommendations are based upon Hofseth’s research:
1. Attention comes to those who understand social media
Access is gained by understanding and accepting how the new ecosystem works
2. Listening before talking will keep you connected
Listening to, and responding to, the public’s concerns makes it possible to connect, and will increase content relevance and quality
3. If content refuses to go through the editor, the editor must come to the content
Pointing out falsehoods is valuable, as no central bodies are policing the internet
4. Offering overview gives editorial influence
Providing better overview can help the public sort and understand issues
5. Avoiding common traps makes everything better
Staying clear of pitfalls and dysfunctional practices can improve the entire ecosystem
6. Journalism is of little value until people actually get it
Making issues comprehensible, relevant, and engaging to normal people is even more important when content discovery happens in a single arena alongside more entertaining alternatives
Interviewees include Emily Bell, Director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism, Columbia J School, Tin Radovani, Strategist, BBC News Group, Wolfgang Blau, Chief Digital Officer, Condé Nast International, Andrew Sparrow, Political correspondent, The Guardian, Janine Gibson, Editor-In-Chief, BuzzFeed UK and Alan Rusbridger, former Editor-In-Chief, The Guardian.
Make yourself useful: six simple things your newsroom can do for democracy was researched and written when Anders Hofseth was the inaugural Google Digital News Initiative Journalist Fellow at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism (RISJ), 2015-2016.
EJO is a partner organisation of the RISJ
Pic credit: ‘Newsroom’ by Jeremy Zilar, Flickr.com