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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

Civic journalism lacks media education

Moran BARKAI: “The tasks of the journalist have not changed. Only the methods of work are new”
11 October, 2012 - 00:00

Does the change of form always envisage a change of content? When the world goes crazy about new technologies and social networks, some media experts call these innovations only forms of giving information. The Day interviewed Moran BARKAI, a scholar from the Netherlands who authors the famous research on online-revolutions Revolution: Share!, about the trends in modern “journalism cuisine.”

Ms. Barkai, in your opinion, are journalists facing any modern challenges and threats?

“Apparently, today, in the time of free and available content, one of the greatest challenges modern journalists are facing is the possibility to find an optimum financial model. Modest budgets envisage lower expenses for investigation journalism along with worse working conditions, which at the same time means worsening of quality of the news. Now journalists are more involved in rewriting press releases than checking facts and analysis of what is in fact going on in the world.”

Has the role of journalists changed along with the fundamental changes in the majority of societies? Actually, what is the task of the journalists nowadays?

“I don’t think the task of the journalists has changed. The methods of work may have changed, but the task remains the same: to inform about the events, mostly political, economic and social on the national and international levels, enabling people to make a well-reasoned political choice. We also should not forget about the educational and entertaining role of media, in particular, in the sphere of culture and sports.”

What trends exist in modern journalism?

“Today we can see a considerable dependence on technologies which open new ways of presenting information and give new opportunities, like journalism of data, social media, etc. The Internet has also changed the way the news are being consumed today, owing to the increasing number of news produces and the tendency towards increasing hyper connection of journalistic materials with external sources of information (when an article gives links to a journalist’s blog, for example). It is also worth mentioning the number of journalists’ personal blogs is increasing, which enables them and other media experts to implement a more personal approach to journalism. Traditional media should learn the new ways of implementing these technologies and maybe try to take the leading positions. They should try to predict and take lead, which they sometimes have failed to do of late, rather than be ‘catching up.’”

How would you characterize the information image of Ukraine? What problems are the most frequent?

“Ukraine’s image is not very positive, mostly due to political reasons. The information field presents as the main problem the political system, considered antidemocratic together with Yulia Tymoshenko’s story which is viewed by everyone as a political vendetta.”

On the eve of Euro-2012 many popular European publications characterized Ukraine as almost a medieval country with strong rudiments of Nazism and nationalism. Is not this a classic example of a distorted highlighting of international events? Who are responsible for this effect of a distorted mirror? Journalists, avid for sensations, European political moods, or Ukraine’s disastrous promotional strategy?

“In journalism the black-and-white vision is always easier. Nuances are much harder to highlight. So, if something goes wrong, it is hyperbolized. This is a part of human nature to label and look for sensations.”

In the book you have recently published Revolution: Share! you called civic journalism a very positive democratic phenomenon. At the same time there is a threat of manipulation connected with the lack of journalistic professionalism. How can one avoid these processes or at least weaken them?

“People should be knowledgeable about the sphere of media, know how they work and how to read them. On the whole, we need more media education. I am sure that the lack of professionalism and immunity to manipulation can do harm only in a short-term prospect. That is why we should always be critical about the news we are being given. But hopefully, in the future we will know what sources we can trust and which ones we should not. It is similar to having formed preferences about newspapers. Such as The New York Times are considered reliable, whereas such as The British Newspaper and The Sun – not. However, we should understand that 100 years ago no newspaper was reliable. Hopefully, civic journalism will cover this stage in a shorter period of time.”

Yaryna Mykhailyshyn is a student of the School of Social Sciences of the Institute of Philosophy and Sociology of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw