Is ‘Quality’ Journalism Dying Out Slowly?
- 19 Jan 2023
The multiple ways and standards of practising journalism are complicated, dynamic and are sometimes aggravated. The interpretation of a similar piece of news depends upon its interpretation by different journalists and their news organisations and they may apply differently depending upon the circumstantial differences of time and the type of journalism associated with it.
Notice a pattern here?
Practising journalism is a sensitive and delicate profession. Still, the primary principle of journalism states to produce the most accurate, fair and useful information possible.
Some of these standards are obligatory (have binding rules) and undeclared (newsroom policies about the use of anonymous sources), while others are aspirational (the attempt to eliminate bias) and require judgement and discussion.
In almost all cases at major news organisations, these standards are often looked at as basic principles and are subject to constant reconsideration and revision — whether to prevent the recurrence of an error or to adapt to new tools and methods of gathering and reporting information. For Example, in current times, social media is not just an entertainment platform, it has increased its barriers to being used as a holistic platform ranging from creating a fastest growing professional platform to a platform that spreads information like wildfire.
But the major question today is whether journalism is under a threat or not?
Recent news broadcasts show images of journalists, as helmeted war correspondents protected by bullet-proof vests and armed only with cameras and microphones, facing life threats, getting kidnapped or killed. Do all these unbearable situations occur because the news correspondents are presenting the truth? This truly raises the question that in contemporary times, ‘Is the pen mightier than the sword’?
Physical threats are only the most visible dangers, however, journalists and journalism itself are facing other threats such as censorship, political and economic pressure, intimidation, job insecurity and attacks on the protection of journalists’ sources. Social media and digital photography mean that anyone can now publish information, which is also upsetting the ethics of journalism.
To dig deeper into the topic, we need to go to the roots of the issue and start by defining journalism.
Definition derived from the Hutchins Commission Report, the Commission on the Freedom of the Press (1947) states,
‘Journalism is the serial presentation of information and conversation about public events, trends and issues distributed through various media with the primary purpose of informing, entertaining and connecting citizens in communities’.
Disputes over what constitutes journalism has been around for as long as journalism existed. Recently, professional journalists have criticised the Citizen Journalism Movement (CJM). Concerns have also been raised about efforts such as sponsored content, as well as news being produced by organisations whose fundamental purpose is not producing news but selling their products or advancing a political agenda.
All these facts point to a certain belief that today the institution of journalism isn't defined as a platform which presents unbiased, true factual based and fair presentation of information; rather it is taken upon as a platform used for advertising biased political agendas and presenting sponsored agendas. It is defined more as a business platform and less as a journalism institution.
The process and ways in which facts and information are evaluated give us the formula for quality journalism. The level of evaluation and perspective of the evaluators are two fundamental dimensions in understanding disagreements about what constitutes quality journalism. Journalism can be evaluated at more than one level. Journalism brings forth a market that could hold a diamond at one time and then have that diamond disappear from market forces.
For instance, sometimes in reaction to the speedy and excessive global movement of capital, goods, and work, more and more disillusioned people come to walk in the opposite direction i.e. from the global towards the local.
The result of this is a bifurcation:
1) A short-form journalism– It is growingly produced by newsmakers rather than the news outlets directly (tweets by politicians or authorities) and few people are ready to pay for them.
2) A long-form narrative journalism– It includes the particulars in text, audio, and video which is symbolised by non-fiction books, documentary podcasts, and video documentaries — all with steady or growing market appeal.
Is Quality Journalism an Important Issue?
Before putting quality journalism in the question bars, prior to it, the question to be asked should be why we should be concerned with let alone journalism. One answer would be that journalism is the only business that is legitimately protected. This protection reflects the principle that individual decisions that aggregate to elect public officials in a democratic nation via elections are optimal when voters have access to large amounts of information and opinion. It is a check against tyranny and abuse. More generally, journalism is an essential ingredient for democratic governments as it makes information more transparent in society.
If one accepts that the definition of quality is represented as the excellent degree of something, quality journalism is understood as the ability of journalism to fulfil its functions. Thus, improving the quality of journalism would improve the ability of citizens to use journalism to make better decisions and provide a check against abuse and malfeasance by people in power.
This notion may be most memorably embedded in the famous aphorism of Joseph Pulitzer,
“Our Republic and its press will rise or fall together. A cynical, mercenary, demagogic press will produce in time a people as base as itself. The power to mould the future of the Republic will be in the hands of the journalists of future generations.”
So, the simple equation reflects that increasing the quality of journalism will lead to better decisions by citizens leading to a more transparent and accountable government.
Measuring Quality of Journalism
The five basic values of journalism which provide us with an idea to evaluate quality journalism are:
- Truth and Information Quality
- Social order and solidarity.
It should also be asserted that content determines the performance of a media outlet or system concerning some of these values.
The concept of freedom of expression refers to the ability to express oneself and publish messages without being constrained by governments and economic systems. However, the media outlets express freedom through an active and critical editorial policy.
Freedom is a journalistic value at the systemic level. It exists to some degree in many countries, but the variance happens at the societal/community level and less at the news organisational level. Thus, it can be concluded that the ability to be free does not guarantee the use of freedom.
Media equity assumes that access to media should be open and equivalent for varying points of views and organisations. Media access should be for more than just the wealthy and elite social groups. The idea of access is a fundamental assumption for the efficient and effective working of the marketplace of ideas.
Journalism Under Threat?
Increasing attacks on journalism are not only on journalists but can also be termed as attacks on our right to information. Many of them are easy to spot, but some are more subtle or go completely unnoticed.
A lot of political and unethical tactics suppress information before it can even reach us, or try to influence the impression of it when it does. Each threat has the potential to deeply affect our daily lives — an attack on a single journalist or news outlet is an attack on our collective right to know.
Journalists face countless threats, ranging from kidnapping, torture and arbitrary detention, to disinformation campaigns and harassment, particularly in the digital sphere. Crimes against journalism have an enormous impact on society as a whole. Journalism enable people to make informed decisions but when these decisions get influenced by threat, the decisions taken are not fair and true. There have been many incidents in which journalists have been killed and murdered due to dangerous assignments or exposing corruption, bribery or political events regarding companies or political parties.
Many such incidents include;
Danish Siddiqui, an Indian Pulitzer-winning photographer was killed while covering a clash between Afghanistan security forces and Taliban fighters.
Sulabh Srivastava, a Television journalist based in Pratapgarh, Uttar Pradesh, worked for ABP News and its regional arm ABP Ganga. On 13 June, the 42-year-old journalist was found dead, reportedly in a bike accident near a brick kiln just two days after he had written to senior police officers about receiving death threats following his reportage on the liquor mafia.
According to the UN cultural agency UNESCO, which works to protect media workers, 62 journalists were killed just for doing their jobs in 2020. Between 2006 and 2020, over 1,200 professionals lost their lives the same way. In nine out of ten cases, the killers go unpunished.
As witnessed in the Covid-19 pandemic, and the ‘shadow pandemic’ of misinformation, has demonstrated that access to facts and science is literally a matter of life and death. It can be stated that when access to information is threatened, it sends a disturbing message that undermines democracy and the rule of law.
Threat to Women Journalists
Gender-based violence exposes journalists to stigmatisation, sexist hate speech, trolling, physical assault, rape and even murder.
Irene khan, a special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, published the essay “#journalistsToo - women journalists speak out ”. She brings out the impact that the attacks on women journalists have on the freedom of expression.
According to UNESCO’s recent paper, The Chilling: Global trends in online violence against women journalists, 73 per cent of the women journalists surveyed, said that they had been threatened, intimidated and insulted online in connection with their work.
In 2021, five female journalists were killed, according to IPI’s Death Watch. In 2022, two women journalists have been killed so far. In five of the seven cases, there are strong indications that the journalists were targeted for their work.
Female journalists like Rasha Abdullah Al-Harazi, Mina Khari, Lourdes Maldonado and Michelle Perez Tadeo based in Afghanistan, Mexico and other countries have reportedly been killed after facing online threats and phone calls triggering their work.
After discussing journalism or rather what is in more demand in today's era, ‘quality’ journalism, we conclude that the quality of journalism takes three approaches-
- To specify the characteristics of quality-oriented news organisations.
- To specify the content attributes that reflect the output of these organisations.
- To analyse engagement data to see what kind of qualities resonate with audiences.
Quality journalism is disappearing slowly, but the important question is will it die?
Journalism of the era needs to modify itself and needs to take a step backwards into the past and relearn that journalism is not just about presenting facts; it is rather much more than that. It is about presenting cultural ethnicity, truth and unbiased information, making changes, bringing revolutions and helping in establishing a just and informative democratic state.
It is not just important but a necessity as the journalists like Danish Siddiqui, Jamal Khashoggi and many more gave up their lives while doing their job of accessing information. This motion presents the matter more firmly that in today's world of corruption and showbiz, true journalists who capture the pain and sufferings of people, give up their life for quality journalism but are getting eaten up by the evils of corruption, politics, bribery and the news that is viewership based and not information and impact based.
The Hutchins Commission, The Press and the Responsibility Concept. Journalism Monographs No. 49.
Testimonies of courage, resilience and solidarity: UN Special Rapporteur Irene Khan on women journalists’ experiences with harassment | Articles
The Chilling: global trends in online violence against women journalists; research discussion paper
These 5 journalists were killed in India in 2021. 4 ‘murdered’, 1 died on dangerous assignment
Riya is currently an undergraduate who completed her BA (Hons) in Pol. Science from the University of Delhi. Currently, she is into perspective sketching and Creative content writing. She aspires to grow in the same field.Blogs Home