Reinventing the values of traditional journalism
Around 10 years ago, international media forums used to focus on the benefits of developments in communication technologies. Today, the question is more often about how to cope with the inconveniences brought about by technological advancements and social media.
Certain incidents during the U.S. presidential elections are particularly eye-opening. In an article published in the New York Times back in November titled “Marc Zuckerberg Is in Denial,” Zeynep Tüfekçi, an associate professor at the University of North Carolina, gave two striking examples that help us grasp the dimensions of the problem.
The first example was the article claiming that Donald Trump received an endorsement from Pope Francis, which was shared nearly a million times on Facebook. The second example was the “Denver Guardian” newspaper article claiming that an F.B.I. agent suspected of involvement in leaking Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s emails was found dead. This story was also shared widely on Facebook.
Both stories were completely false. The pope has always avoided endorsing anyone and Pope Francis is also a firm supporter of refugee rights, while there is not even any newspaper called the “Denver Guardian.” These facts could not stop these fake news articles from being read by millions of people on Facebook.
“I encountered thousands of such fake stories last year on social media – and so did American voters, 44 percent of whom use Facebook to get news,” wrote Tüfenkçi.
This was one of the main themes discussed in The Global Media Forum I attended last week in Bonn. How to cope with the information pollution created by such imaginary news in social media?
One way to deal with these issues is to increase social media literacy. The second path closely concerns us journalists and our profession. Part of the remedy is to return to classic journalism values based on verified and correct information, embracing these values more tightly.
Many of the speakers - whether journalists, academics or politicians – in the panels I attended stressed that the importance of quality journalism had increased more than ever in this era of social media. Many emphasized that conventional journalism should seize this new age as an opportunity.
I must admit that as a representative of the press who was quite upset with the priority given to technological developments in similar forums I attended in previous years, with journalism itself being left under the shadow of this priority, I was quite pleased this time to see the value of traditional journalism highlighted at every opportunity.
The words of Amanda Bennett, the director of Voice of America, best summarized the dominant atmosphere at the forum. “The weapons we have are the traditional journalism values: Slowing down, doing reporting, doing research … We should be rigorous and relentless in seeking the other side of the story,” Bennett said.
Noting that press freedom was coming under attack all around the world, she stressed that “the challenges to our job should not cause us to lose faith in our job and our mission. We should recommit ourselves to it.”
Of course, the press must do its job properly, remain independent and conduct its functions in an environment free of pressure.
This brings us to the issue of freedom of the press. In a clear distinction from past international forums, where the winds of democracy seemed to be blowing strongly, this year the trend of authoritarianism has been strengthening. This tendency has been targeting press freedom.
Sadly, it was clear from the forum that a pessimistic opinion has settled in the outside world about the state of freedom of the press in Turkey. The situation of our arrested colleagues was frequently mentioned in many of the panels.
We started out with social media and look where we ended up…