The Asian Voice

Report, reshape and reconnect - how great journalism saves itself: The Jakarta Post Columnist

A journalist holds a placard reading "free media" during a demonstration for the World Press Freedom Day in Istanbul, on May 3, 2017.
A journalist holds a placard reading "free media" during a demonstration for the World Press Freedom Day in Istanbul, on May 3, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

JAKARTA (THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - News media was the engine of journalism for past society. However, the development in recent decades has changed it. An inevitable series of transformation in technology, politics and economy has reshaped the communication landscape. Reportage on major events such as general elections and referendums lately has raised questions on the quality, impact and the credibility of journalism itself, along with its wide array of interests.

As Indonesia welcomes more than 1,700 participants from various countries, who will attend the celebration of World Press Freedom Day 2017, it is very timely to reassess the condition of journalism across the globe and at home.

There is a perception that traditional media has lost its control over the definition of news and its key position as a main news source for the society. This role has been taken over by decentralisation, by whimsical media technology. Others argue that the traditional news brands are still important to generate real and accountable information - at least in theory - as a guarantee of credibility.

There is also another perception that embraces pluralism of media through the rise of social media and see this as an alternative to mainstream journalism, which often deviates from the professional standard. However, another perspective regrets the potential of social media, which instead traps society in a closed information bubble and the inability to separate facts from hoaxes.

There is truth in Financial Times journalist John Lloyd's words that "the decline of physical newspaper and the migration to internet media have put it into the big wave of information, fantasy, leaks, conspiracy theories, compassionate and hate speech."

The decline of mainstream and traditional media audience and profit, the gap between media and public, and the massive growth of hoaxes in reportage on major political events in 2016 are huge, impactful challenges for the media industry. Just like in other countries, Indonesia, as one of the countries with the highest internet users, is also facing widespread hoaxes.

Fabrizio Moreira, an Ecuador politician who has to move to the United States for his resistance against Rafael Correra regime, said, "Fake news can simply spread the wrong information or dangerously polish a hateful propaganda."

Is the problem with journalism a problem with our society's culture itself? Sociology professor Robert Biezenski argues that in other countries, media often plays a key role in societal change. Western newspapers often report on problem identification without seeing their role in mobilising the people to actually care and solve the problem, unlike media in another part of the world.

Biezenski refers to media in Latin America, whose activities are deeply related to political activities and always take sides. And when their reporting goes too far, violence happens, journalists get shot or even murdered. This doesn't happen in North America, since the journalists only touch practical issues like entertainment or sport - meaning that the reporting and journalists are "not worth killing for". The reporting rarely touches the whole system and results in social criticism, but more on an individual level.

Like their Latin America peers, Indonesian media, largely owned by oligarchs and politicians, have bias in their reporting.

Prairie Dog editor in chief Stephen Whitworth argues that it is highly important to make sure that you are connected to the readers and that your audience feels that your paper is something that is comfortable to take and read.

Journalism focuses not only on the facts of a story, but also the ability to shape understanding of the story. Journalism is an art process. If you don't understand the art of communication, reach people and write you won't be able to connect with the people. Presentation is the key to information distribution.

Relations between journalism and the public can be measured on how journalism can strengthen public's interests in politics. Journalism must be attractive and relevant. What is happening today is interesting, but what happens today and gives impact to your quality of life in the future is important.

Whoever participates in journalism should continue working while facing a plethora of challenges, to educate the public on what is going on and to give society a chance to adapt to the existence of alternative media. Fact has shown that even an alternative newspaper in Seattle could win the prominent Pulitzer award.

In every obstacle there is an opportunity. Jim Rutenberg from the New York Times states that "explosion in fake news will serve to raise the value of real news. If so, it will be great journalism that saves journalism." Journalism that is original, critical and the result of deep investigation might be more needed now than ever.

We must be aware that this change and transformation will go on. The ability to adapt is an important thing to anticipate and, if necessary, revitalise.

"When society as a whole changes, when the whole economy suddenly goes down the tube, when millions of people are suddenly unemployed. The society will change. Not before. And then the media will change. Not before," states Robert Biezenski.

Happy World Press Freedom Day!