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What's next for the informed citizen - Media Ecology Newsletter #15

How are citizens informed in the covid age? People are better or worse informed? And in this regard, are there better or worse prospects for journalism? Why should this matter be relevant? Today, your Media Ecology newsletter gathers some research about issues related to the evolution of journalism and the way people are dealing with information during the pandemic. You’ll find links to research and you’ll get news about what to read or to watch on information about information.

I’m Luca De Biase and I’m writing about these matters since a long time. It is more and more difficult to do it, as notions such as “newspaper” and “journalist” are changing their meaning and are often losing their future. I wrote “A newspaper is not its paper” in 2006, “Ecology of Attention“ in 2009, “Journalism is its method“ in 2016, and some other posts about journalism. During the covid pandemic I’ve been wring about “A fresh start in 2021. And the formation of an informed community” a series in five episodes.

A great piece of research about the way information is generated: “The Impact of COVID-19 on Journalism in Emerging Economies and the Global South” by Damian Radcliffe (January 14, 2021).

«The media landscape is simply unrecognisable from a decade ago. Continually in flux, constantly buffeted by the next wave of change, the profession has faced unprecedented challenges - from upended business models, to the global erosion of trust in journalism, to fake news. The sweeping devastation of the global pandemic has exacerbated existing issues that had already caused fissures in the industry to a level where it is hard to see a clear path to recovery. As a result, 2021 will be a defining moment for the news business» writes Antonio Zappulla, ceo Thomson Reuters Foundation. «This report captures the voices of our alumni who speak, for the first time, about how COVID-19 has impacted on their ability to do their job. Their real-life experiences bring an invaluable addition to the insights of industry leaders and media experts, also featured in this report. With grateful thanks to its author Damian Radcliffe, Professor of Journalism at the University of Oregon, this report uniquely brings together extensive research into how the pandemic has affected the profession of journalism in these specific regions, alongside personal experiences ranging from day-to-day operational challenges to broader press freedom issues, as told from those who have lived it. The Thomson Reuters Foundation’s focus on promoting and protecting media freedom has never been more relevant. We believe that societies around the world should be free, fair and informed. The media is fundamental to achieving this. And when information can be the means by which lives are lost or saved, news is an ever-more valuable currency».

A great video to watch is Evolving Media - Official Documentary Winner [10th SUNYWide Film Festival] - available on YouTube. Lance Strate, American writer and professor of communication and media studies at Fordham University, a media ecology expert, is one of the researchers interviewed.

There is an idea here. Newspapers were born to serve some professionals that needed the information and paid for it quite a lot. Their political stances were quite partisan in the interest of their customers. When the industrial revolution created a public for mass media, prices were brought down and publishers looked for customers with quite different political views and economic interests: objectivity was born. The great complexity that emerged in the digital media age is a return to partisanship, maybe, but not only.

It is quite possible that journalists have always been a controversial professional category: some were heroes, some were artists, some were business people, others were diguised politicians, many others were workers doing their job with dignity. Newspapers, on the other hand, have always been driven by a set of logics: business models, political stances, communication style, technology. It is true that journalists and newspapers have served the public in many ways: not always in the interest of the public. But the present crisis of newspapers, in the digital media environment, makes it interesting to think about what’s next for the public to be informed.

The answer is not in an evolution of newspapers or in a new kind of journalist. These issues are maybe to be dealt with later. The answer comes starting a discussion about what are the possibile innovations in knowledge production that can improve public information. It is not going to be a short or simple answer. And there will not be just a single answer.

Knowledge management teaches that there are a set of matters to deal with: knowledge creation, databases and archives, search, distribution and transfer, use and application. Any information system of the future will always have to deal with these all matters. It is not necessary that a single company makes all the services mentioned above. Business will be able to thrive by just managing databases or letting people search or access information. But the critical tasks are the creation and application of information. 

As for the creation, it is clearly a matter of epistemology of sorts. How do you find and generate valuable information? What’s next for this kind of research?

People are now relying on platforms that outsource the generation of information to anybody. You find online anything from a good piece of research and some kind of crap.

Journalism is another matter. Journalism is a discipline that serves to know how things are in a documented, accurate, independent and relatively transparent in methodological and legal terms. Journalism can be useful for the next platforms that will serve the informed citizen.

The Normative Theories of the Press in the Digital Age: A Need for Revision” by Omolola Oluwasola, Federal university, Oye Ekiti (August 20, 2020). «Digital communication is changing media practice, relationship between individuals, media, government and society. We are of the opinion that in the wake of the increasingly complex media environment, the philosophical assumptions of some normative media theories and the media effects theories require reexamination as new models are needed given the current realities. The Delphi method was used to gather experts’ opinions of practicing mass communication practitioners on the applicability of the normative theories given the current social realities. This work focuses on not only the dominant normative theories but also several other proposals and calls for revisit of normative theories of the media developed over the years by scholars in the united states, united kingdom, continental Europe and minimally, third world scholars with a new chart for the rethinking process».

Facebook’s faces”, by Chinmayi Arun Yale Law School; Harvard University, Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society (March 15, 2021). Forthcoming Harvard Law Review Forum Volume 135. Abstract: «The Facebook Oversight Board’s decision about the suspension of Donald Trump’s account is different from the Board’s other cases because it interests states. The ‘Trump Ban’ case affects the Board’s reputation and Facebook’s relationships with states and publics. We will not understand the case’s impact if we do not understand these relationships.

Scholarship about social media platforms discusses their relationship with states and users. The Essay is the first to expand this theorization to account for differences among states, the varying influence of different publics and the internal complexity of companies. Theorizing Facebook’s relationships this way includes less influential states and publics that are otherwise obscured. It reveals that Facebook engages with states and publics through multiple, parallel regulatory conversations, further complicated by the fact that Facebook itself is not a monolith. This Essay argues that Facebook has many faces – different teams working towards different goals, and engaging with different ministries, institutions, scholars and civil society organizations. Content moderation exists within this eco-system.

This Essay’s account of Facebook’s faces and relationships shows that less influential publics can influence the company through strategic alliances with strong publics or powerful states. It also suggests that Facebook’s carelessness with a seemingly weak state or a group, may affect its relationship with a strong public or state that cares about the outcome.

To be seen as independent and legitimate, the Oversight Board needs to show its willingness to curtail Facebook’s flexibility in its engagement with political leaders where there is a real risk of harm. This Essay hopes to show Facebook that the short-term retaliation from some states may be balanced out by the long-term reputational gains with powerful publics and powerful states who may appreciate its willingness to set profit-making goals aside to follow the Oversight Board’s recommendations».

Trust in Communication Research: A Systematic Literature Review of Trust Studies in Leading Communication Journals” by Terry Flew, The University of Sydney, and Callum McWaters, Queensland University of Technology (January 22, 2020). «What has been referred to as the crisis of trust in social institutions has deep connections with communications, whether it be declining trust in news media and journalism, or the many debates and enquiries into the power of digital platforms. But communications as a field is not prominent in trust research, as compared to philosophy, sociology, political science and economics. Through a systematic literature review of the concept of trust in three leading ICA publications – Journal of Communication, Communication Theory and Annals of the International Communications Association (formerly Communication Yearbook) – 157 articles are identified as engaging with trust in a sustained way, at the societal (macro), institutional (meso) and interpersonal (micro) levels. It is argued that there are prominent strands of trust research in communication that warrant greater acknowledgement».

OCCRP Concerned by FSB Raid on IStories Editor Roman Anin’s Moscow Apartment