In a world increasingly mired in disinformation, the role of journalism has never been more critical or more fraught with challenges.
Stuart Allan, a journalism professor at Cardiff University, points out six big problems that journalists are dealing with right now in 2022’s The Routledge Companion to News and Journalism.
This summary of Allan’s six key issues show us how complicated and crucial the role of journalism is, especially if we want to keep our democracy strong and fair.
1. Battling the “infodemic”
The World Health Organization (WHO) describes an infodemic as too much information, both true and false, that makes it hard for people to know what to trust. The head of WHO has warned that fake news can spread even faster than a virus such as COVID-19 and can be just as harmful. When politics get mixed into health issues, like people spreading false info about vaccines, it makes it even harder to prepare for future outbreaks. To prepare for future outbreaks, news organizations need to build trust and focus on accurate, balanced reporting.
2. Taking on politicians and “fake news”
Some politicians aim to divide people and gain power by attacking the media, calling it “fake news” if it criticizes them. This tactic has been popularized globally, in part by former U.S. President Donald Trump. Even Fox News, known for supporting him, wasn’t safe from his attacks. There’s a need to rebuild better systems for news and social media that are more inclusive, transparent, and responsible. Laws also need to be updated to make sure media and tech companies can’t just focus on making money from stirring up division and spreading conspiracy theories.
3. Climate change: No time for weak words
Environmental journalists are facing challenges in how they report on the climate crisis. Big companies, especially those in the fossil fuel industry, are using their resources to influence what gets reported. They aim to downplay how bad pollution is and create doubt about the scientific agreement on climate change’s harmful effects. To fight this, news outlets like The Guardian are updating their guidelines to use stronger, more accurate words that better convey the urgency of the situation. They’re also working on avoiding “false balance,” which is when they give equal time to climate science and climate denial, even though the science is far more credible. By sticking to the facts and holding powerful people accountable, journalists aim to counter misleading information and help the public understand the real risks we face.
4. Being “objective” isn’t enough
In simple terms, the idea that journalism should be neutral and just present different points of view has been widely questioned. Critics argue that this approach often leaves out the perspectives of people who aren’t white, male, or straight, and this can hurt democracy. Additionally, some media outlets are now spreading extreme views that target vulnerable groups like poor people or marginalized groups. So, there’s a growing belief that journalists should do more than just report “both sides.” They should also be ethical and considerate, making sure they represent diverse opinions and don’t contribute to hate or discrimination.
5. Saving local news
Local journalism is struggling financially, and this is causing problems for communities that rely on it for news and a sense of belonging. Some local newspapers have become “ghost papers,” using recycled content because they don’t have the resources for original reporting. The term “news desert” describes areas where local news is disappearing. This often happens when big corporations buy local outlets and cut costs, reducing the quality and amount of news. People are now exploring new ways to fund local journalism, like donations, new business strategies, and public funding, in hopes of creating a more stable future for it.
6. Journalists under attack
Journalists worldwide, especially women, are facing online attacks for trying to combat fake news. A study by UNESCO shows that these attacks are meant to scare, silence, and discredit journalists, particularly women, and prevent them from participating in public debates. Maria Ressa, a journalist from the Philippines and a 2021 Nobel Peace Prize winner, is an example. She has faced ongoing political harassment and arrests for her work exposing violence and corruption in her country. In her Nobel speech, she emphasized the importance of facts for maintaining trust and democracy, stating that without a shared reality based on truth, tackling global issues becomes impossible.
Now more than ever, there’s an urgency for us to engage with these challenges. Whether you’re a reader, a journalist, or someone who simply cares about the world, it’s on all of us to help guide journalism through these troubled waters. We must stay committed to the truth, push for transparency and inclusion, and support those who provide us with reliable, unbiased news. The future of our democracy may very well depend on it.
Allan, S. (2022). The Routledge Companion to News and Journalism (2nd ed.). Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781003174790
Arguedas, A.R, Banerjee, S., Mont’Alverne, C., Toff, B., Fletcher, R., Nielsen, R.K. (2023, April 18). News for the powerful and privileged: how misrepresentation and underrepresentation of disadvantaged communities undermine their trust in news. Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism. https://reutersinstitute.politics.ox.ac.uk/news-powerful-and-privileged-how-misrepresentation-and-underrepresentation-disadvantaged
Campion-Smith, B. (2020, December 19). ‘Ghost’ papers underscore the loss of trusted journalism in Canadian communities. Toronto Star. https://www.thestar.com/opinion/public-editor/ghost-papers-underscore-the-loss-of-trusted-journalism-in-canadian-communities/article_a3e85caf-a498-59b8-9fcc-68f0ba886056.html
Downie, Jr., L. (2023, January 30). Newsrooms that move beyond ‘objectivity’ can build trust. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2023/01/30/newsrooms-news-reporting-objectivity-diversity/
Grimes, D.R. (2016, November 8). Impartial journalism is laudable. But false balance is dangerous. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/science/blog/2016/nov/08/impartial-journalism-is-laudable-but-false-balance-is-dangerous
Kent, L. (2022, September 8). Big oil companies are spending millions to appear ‘green.’ Their investments tell a different story, report shows. CNN Business. https://www.cnn.com/2022/09/07/energy/big-oil-green-claims-report-climate-intl/index.html
Ressa, M. (2021, December 10). Maria Ressa: Nobel Prize lecture. The Nobel Prize. https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/peace/2021/ressa/lecture/
Scherer, M., Dawsey, J. & Ellison, S. (2023, March 8). Inside the simmering feud between Donald Trump and Fox News. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2023/03/08/trump-fox-feud/
The Sunday Magazine. (2020, July 10). Objectivity is ‘the view from nowhere’ and potentially harmful: expert. CBC.ca. https://www.cbc.ca/radio/sunday/the-sunday-edition-for-july-12-2020-1.5639297/objectivity-is-the-view-from-nowhere-and-potentially-harmful-expert-1.5639304
UNESCO. (2020, December 15). UNESCO’s Global Survey on Online Violence against Women Journalists. UNESCO. https://www.unesco.org/en/articles/unescos-global-survey-online-violence-against-women-journalists
World Health Organization. (n.d.). Infodemic. World Health Organization. https://www.who.int/health-topics/infodemic
Zeldin-O’Neill, S. (2019, October 16). ‘It’s a crisis, not a change’: the six Guardian language changes on climate matters. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/oct/16/guardian-language-changes-climate-environment