Journalism is racing to survive in an industry shaken up by digital disruption, shrinking advertising revenues, resource crunches, internet shutdowns, and public distrust as fake content gets published under the guise of ‘news’.
What has stood the test of time is a news reporter’s basic personality traits - curiosity and tenacity, which are key drivers of the quest for truth and integrity. Such traits are vital for a profession that demands in-depth research, thorough investigation, data gathering, fact-checking, apt sourcing, transparency, a fearless determination to unravel the truth, and a hunger to inform and educate the public.
Combine the above with a willingness to adapt to new technologies and embrace digitalisation, and you have the perfect recipe for the long-lasting survival of news media, according to experts who participated in an online webinar titled ‘Racing to Survive: Media’s Challenges and Solutions’. The event kickstarted a four-part webinar series on ‘Media’s Role in a Sustainable Recovery in Asia and the Pacific’, hosted by the Asian Development Bank and the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Reflected in the quotes below from the webinar’s expert speakers - David Bornstein, CEO and co-founder of the Solutions Journalism Network; Meera Selva, former Deputy Director of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism; Sharanjit Leyl, International Broadcaster; and Yasir Khan, Editor-in-Chief at the Thomson Reuters Foundation - are 10 tactics that can help news media to survive:
1. Go digital
“There were two kinds of legacy media organisations during COVID: brands that had already seen the writing on the wall and had invested in digital and accrued audiences over time … and then there were brands where digital was seen as an add-on, as something that was a side business. And this is where a lot of organisations got caught out”. – Yasir Khan
2. Investigate solutions
“Solutions Journalism is an approach that covers responses to social problems, without focusing on hero-worship or advocacy or puffery or anything that is soft. It’s really a rigorous approach to evaluating how people are trying to solve a problem, what results they are getting, and what - if anything - can be learned from their efforts”. – David Bornstein
3. Engage younger audiences
“The younger generation see the news very differently from the older ones: they want something different from the news, they want a different set of values, they want to identify with the news, they want the news they consume to be clear about what it stands for. They want a sense of identity from their newsrooms … it doesn't mean you can't be objective and impartial and accurate, but you need to frame the news in a slightly different way”. – Meera Selva
“Younger people are looking for authenticity in how we cover the news”. – Yasir Khan
4. Think multimedia
“I think it’s time to stop pretending that there’s this magic wall, that the TV studio is this magic space where graphics magically appear. I can do that on my phone now,”
“I look for multimedia skills (while hiring),or at least an aptitude for multimedia skills, and good knowledge of social platforms and how writing an article is different from writing a tweet, for instance”. – Yasir Khan
5. Fight fake news
“A number of savvy news organisations are now trying to tackle fake news head-on, on the very platforms that are so good at spreading it. And that, of course, is social media.” – Sharanjit Leyl
“There’s trusted messengers and untrusted messengers, and so there’s who we trust that’s more important than what we trust in a lot of cases for a lot of people. There’s also this question, which is very important for young people especially – Do you have my back?” – David Bornstein
6. Understand your audience
“The key is to talk to the audience that you want, ask them what they want, look at where they are, and look at what they are doing, and then perhaps frame your offering that way. At Al Jazeera, one of the things I would tell my teams when they pitched a story is - would you share this on your social media and with 10 of your friends? And if the answer to both of those questions is no, or maybe, then you need to go back and re-evaluate how you frame your story and how you're going to tell it”. – Yasir Khan
7. Build trust
“If you’re talking about trust and efficacy in journalism, we have to talk about the basic helpfulness, the basic usefulness, of the information we are giving people. Does it help them understand how to live in this world today?” – David Bornstein
“It (factual reports) is a huge responsibility, and it shouldn't just fall on journalists and the media industry to do this. We'll need the input of all the stakeholders, authorities, social media platforms, every fact-checker”. – Sharanjit Leyl
8. Create your social media community
“You have the opportunity to build a community of interests through social media and you have an identity in terms of the kinds of stories that you're writing. It doesn't necessarily have to be opinion, but you're flagging certain kinds of content”. – David Bornstein
9. Upskilling is key
“Not everyone wants a war correspondent. Specialising in certain key areas, especially like climate coverage or financial tech, is a good idea. I would say (for freelancers), push me or push organisations who are hiring you, and paying you for your work, to do better”. – Yasir Khan
10. Use local sources
“Trust is a function of proximity much more now in journalism. So, if you want somebody to talk to the audience about the climate crisis, about Ukraine, about the effects of vaccines, it’s better to have a local news source where you can actually run into the person at a coffee shop”. – David Bornstein
The above words of wisdom come from stalwarts of journalism who have done the grind with typewriters, Betacams and rolodexes, and have the malleability to embrace the future of technology and work towards digital and innovative editorial content.
“People want information, people want stories. Storytelling is as old as mankind itself, and that won't die out,” affirmed Meera Selva at the webinar.
Kavita Chandran is a journalism trainer with Thomson Reuters Foundation and the moderator of the four episodes in the ‘Media’s Role in a Sustainable Recovery in Asia and the Pacific’ webinar series. Click here to register for the upcoming episodes.