2018 was the deadliest year on record for the killing of journalists internationally. We heard of these horrific, politically-motivated tragedies, like that of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul, which awakened the international community to an understanding of the extreme degree of Saudi corruption. But the 2018 results on the killings of journalists from Reporters Without Borders, a media watchdog organization that monitors freedom of speech worldwide, indicate a disturbing and spiraling trend in the world of journalism today.
Journalism is the practice of holding those in power accountable and ensuring that voices and perspectives are recognized and heard. Journalists, as TIME Magazine so expertly described them in their 2018 Person of the Year issue, are the “Guardians of the Truth” — and TIME’s choice was driven by the murder of Khashoggi, the startling result of a pattern generated largely from an encroaching governmental contempt for and disregard of journalism. Last year, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan went so far as to call journalists who criticize his dictatorial rule “terrorists” — while our own president lambasts journalists as “enemies of the people.”
It is becoming easier and easier to cast any of that which you are not in agreement with as categorically false. And this scheme is, in many ways, propelled forward by the fact that social media allows people to delineate our own interpretation of facts as they seem most favorable to us, by tweeting out whatever we want and brandishing it as the truth. Fact — the utmost responsibility of the journalist — is becoming perceived as a threat. We live in a world of Twitter and Facebook, but we also live in a world where truth matters — and we must be cognizant of the difference between what is, for lack of better terminology, real versus what is false.
In the last few months, we at WSN have felt occupied by the rapid alterations occurring within the journalistic world. In January, we witnessed a vast swath of layoffs in the journalism industry at popular companies like BuzzFeed, “The Huffington Post,” “Yahoo News,” “AOL News” and “USA Today.” Just last fall, the shutdown of the “Village Voice,” a pioneering and prominent emblem of independent newspapers, located right here in Greenwich Village, was yet another sign of the industry’s reorientation. People are reading newspapers less and less, and our President is labeling anything he does not agree with as “fake.” The status quo is growing increasingly confusing for the journalist in 2019.
Trust in the media was at an all-time low in 2017 — which, at 32%, was 8% lower than the previous low of 40%. As the rise of populism continues to signal a trajectory toward the president’s Twitter page and away from the news, we are forced to confront the ramifications of an industry that has, for decades now, leaned to the left. But living in a society in which the public does not trust their media source leads us into a precarious terrain. When we do not trust those who are supposed to protect us most, we are left vulnerable to interference and misinformation.
So how do we prepare future journalists to enter the profession within this oncoming era? Those who say that “journalism is dead” are sorely mistaken. Because how can it be “dead” when accountability is needed now more than ever?
In our series, “The Future of Journalism,” the WSN Opinion Desk is aiming to ask questions and explore potential answers to the questions of journalism in 2019 and beyond. How do we integrate journalism education into? How do we better ensure that our future journalists are prepared for a rapidly changing field?
Last year, “The New Yorker” introduced audio versions of their longer-form articles, so that people can listen to pieces — rather than sit and read them — on the go. Look right under the byline — you can now find a linked audio recording of the piece and tune in as you would for a radio broadcast. We know that social media makes information consumable by positioning it as headlines and clickbait, but it isn’t the only way to create more readily graspable news. Audio journalism and documentary film work are realms of journalistic inquiry that we stand ready to explore, and these territories still require the talent of great writing and skilled reporting.
No, young people do not really read print newspapers anymore. Everyone knows this — it’s a notion that people have pored over repeatedly. But young people aren’t unengaged. Young people love social media because it gives us the information we want in a consumable form. As much as journalists, writers and broadcasters might mourn the loss of journalism’s more artful manifestations, eulogizing the industry is a vast misconception. Because young people, do, indeed, care about the news. They love podcasts — polling data from 2017 shows that over half of all podcast users are between the ages of 12 and 34. The rise of the popularity of the NPR app makes sought-after podcasts like “Serial” and “This American Life” available at our fingertips — while also allowing us to listen to the “National News Broadcast” or the “Morning Update” on our 15-minute walk to class. PEW Research data indicates that while newspapers, cable news, network news and local news viewership continues to plummet, podcasts and radio consumption are on the rise.
All of these new platforms require journalists who have made it their goal to be storytellers, reporters and, most importantly, arbiters of the truth. Free journalism is an essential tenet of a free society. We at WSN want to understand how something so essential to our democracy, our culture and our statehood changes as the expectations and practices of its audience change simultaneously.
But we also know that the written form of journalism will always have value because good writing never goes out of demand. Not even the world’s most impactful tweet can change the fact that people love well-told stories. We hope you can find some within this series.
All the best,
Hanna & Melanie
This article is part of a special series from WSN called “The Future of Journalism,” in which the Opinions Desk plans to explore the future of the journalism industry in the current political and social climate, as well as try to gain a better understanding of how we can prepare our future journalists for the field.
Opinions expressed on the editorial pages are not necessarily those of WSN, and our publication of opinions is not an endorsement of them.
Email Hanna Khosravi and Melanie Pineda at [email protected]