Journalists globally faced yet another challenging year reporting on today’s pressing issues. With the world still navigating the COVID-19 pandemic, reporters have stepped to the plate to cover the virus’ variants and debunk misinformation around the vaccines. They have also kept readers informed about crises like the January 6 insurrection in the U.S., and the Taliban recapture of Afghanistan, among many others. They’ve done all this amid escalating press freedom crackdowns, from Belarus and Myanmar to Nicaragua and Hong Kong.
Against the backdrop of these challenges, many journalists innovated to more effectively engage their audiences, discovering new methods along the way to improve their coverage.
We spoke with current ICFJ Knight Fellows about what this year has taught them, and what advice they have for fellow media professionals heading into 2022.
Let’s create multiple ways to listen, and to pay attention to the needs of different groups in our communities. We know that our audience development work requires teamwork, and cannot be a project for one person alone. Our Salud Con Lupa team has created multiple projects to listen to and pay attention to the needs of different groups in our community:
- “The Other Patients,” a collection of stories reported by our audience members about their unmet health needs
- “In Memoriam,” a space for virtual, collective mourning of those who have died of COVID-19
- “On the Front Lines,” a collection of testimonies from frontline workers fighting COVID-19.
Let’s transform the way we do health journalism. Our reporting should help our audience members understand their problems, while at the same time help them solve those problems. To give a few examples, our site might feature an investigation exposing corruption among public health officials, while at the same time highlighting a first-hand account from someone who has suffered a panic attack. While the topics we cover may be diverse, all of our content is anchored by two things: It demystifies health and science, and is content with which our audience can relate.
Let’s invest in our team’s mental health. Stress, anxiety, depression, sleep and eating disorders, and burnout are just some of the mental health problems that many journalists covering the pandemic suffer every day. The pandemic has put media workers under unprecedented strain, testing their psychosocial conditions and the abilities of editors and directors to identify and support those workers.
The need for credible information as the world navigates the COVID-19 pandemic and rising authoritarianism are important issues that the media needs to [recognize] in 2022. My advice for fact checkers and media managers is to experiment with new formats of reaching people with verified information on social media platforms. Experimenting with newer formats like audio and humorous content for fact checking and media literacy content is an optimal means of reaching a large audience. In combating misinformation going forward, there is a need to take into account local nuances and news consumption patterns unique to each cultural context. Added to this is the need to to prioritize non-technological solutions in reaching underserved audiences.
With preparations for elections underway in countries such as Brazil, Nigeria, Kenya, and the Philippines, developing skills for investigating digital platforms is vital for journalists in 2022. Instances of computational propaganda and large-scale gendered disinformation campaigns are likely to feature prominently in some of these elections. Familiarity with open source intelligence (OSINT), a field of investigation using publicly accessible information, is paramount for journalists who want to debunk disinformation around elections in these countries.
Journalism needs innovation and needs it fast. While social media organizations advance into new products and formats to dominate the world of content, journalism resists — but it is still bound to the same old recipes: text blocks, photo galleries, print editions.
These recipes work fine and are effective at delivering complex information to highly engaged audiences. But, we still haven’t found a better way to deliver news to younger audiences and we haven’t created a better approach for digital products.
From my experience, here are some areas that might bring journalism up to speed with tech competitors:
- App development has been a key driver for major newsrooms all over the world. It grants more freedom to organizations to monetize and experiment with their content. At the same time, it brings tech into journalism's world — not as a complement, but as journalism itself.
- Curating news has great value, but this can't be fully done by machines. For top quality in aggregating informative reporting, journalists must play an integral role.
- Try reaching your audience wherever it is, while bringing them to your website whenever you can. Pageviews and unique visitors are important metrics, but generating action and impact is a way bigger deal.
Middle East and North Africa
Freedom and independence of media are facing increasing threats and unprecedented challenges worldwide. Multiple rapid changes that emerged in our societies — at least in the past two years — I can safely say that it is our role as journalists to keep with the path of changing and try our best to make sure that our work is a virtue, not a vice.
My advice for journalists in 2022 is to start to innovate as soon as possible. For me, choosing to start a new media incubator during the pandemic wasn’t an easy decision. My driving force was, though, to protect the profession in the region by establishing a media ecosystem that supports young female journalists to find new ways and solutions to establish their media start-ups. This year, I have learned a lot and realized the crucial need to conduct more research about journalism in the Arab region, if we are willing to save the existing media outlets and support new ones.
Having said that, I believe that in a world that has become virtual, with existing and emerging challenges facing journalism, gender inequality, and unemployment among young journalists, new solutions need to be created.
The future is no longer far off. This is why innovation and digitization are not a luxury anymore.