Each year, the Ethical Journalism Network (EJN) publishes a magazine where they look broadly at pressing topics and challenges for journalism around the world. This year’s publication, released at the International Journalism Conference in Perugia in early April, takes a sobering tone with the title, “Saving the news: Ethics and the fight for the future of journalism.”
The topics are diverse, ranging from an in-depth look into journalists’ challenges in South Sudan to the ethics of photographic manipulation. Two themes, however, stand out in both the articles and the coverage surrounding the publication’s release: technology and trust — both of which place the publication’s topics squarely in the heart of conversations taking place in all corners of the journalism world today.
“There's a first world crisis in terms of information, and that can be characterized as a major crisis of trust with the audience,” EJN president and founder Aidan White told IJNet.
“People are confused by the chaos of the internet, about not knowing on what they can rely or what they can't rely,” White, who also contributed to the publication, continued. “[The] result is that people are, on the one hand, refusing to believe anything they read in the media, and on the other hand, believing everything they read in the media.”
In the publication’s foreword, the Principal of Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford and chair of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, Alan Rusbridger, discusses the rise and fall of tech giants like Facebook, as well as their destructive impact on the news industry. He argues, however, that finger-pointing is as much a distraction as it is a reality.
Rusbridger also notes two places where he considers journalists to have failed in building trust — covering both Brexit and climate change.
“Set aside the politics and ask, what message do we want a sceptical public to believe about journalism?” he writes. “Is it primarily a craft of verification or opinion? Is it there to give a factual basis for debates society needs to have, or is it there to push the beliefs of an individual proprietor or editor?”
The issue of public skepticism surrounding the media sets the backdrop for many of this year’s articles. Still, the title itself offers more hope than is immediately visible. Rather than being bogged down by challenges, the articles instead serve as both a plea and a roadmap for more solutions.
While White does not hesitate to sound the alarm about both journalism and, consequently, democracy, he says we’re on the verge of a “golden age” in journalism.
“We are so caught up with the sense of crisis, that we are not aware of it,” he says.
Frustrated by the nostalgia for a journalism that he says he has never seen, White argues that there was never actually a time when journalism was free from issues of trust. Now, however, his optimism stems from the potential he sees in new technologies that likely will transform the ways in which news is created and distributed.
“We have opportunities to provide [the] public interesting information on scale and with the level of efficiency, and with the level of accuracy and relevance, which is unheard of,” says White.
Other topics covered in this year’s magazine include hate speech, safety, solutions-focused journalism, governance and more. In total, the articles span the spectrum of topics and geographies — from Honduras, the Philippines, Spain, Kosovo and more.
“As always, we wanted an authentic voice from the regions... [people] that understand the situation to talk really about what's going on,” White explained.
Looking ahead, White is excited not just about journalism’s potential, but also about the work of EJN. Just last month, for instance, the organization named a new director, Hannah Storm, who kicked off her work by introducing the publication at a panel in Perugia.
“I think what's she's going to bring to it is a real, fresh energy and some new issues as well. We haven't done enough on issues related to gender, for example,” says White. “We're going to work more on security issues as well. And Hannah's a really inspiring person to have around in the leadership team, so I think it all looks really good for the future.”
Main image from EJN's latest publication, "Saving the news: Ethics and the fight for the future of journalism."