Our editors & readers talk
from Mark Jones:
I spent last week at the World Economic Forum in Davos producing content for reuters.com, running some experiments in new ways to cover a conference, and observing the growing integration of social media into a major mainstream event.
We had great success with giving our correspondents ‘Flip cameras’ with which to grab short comments from delegates on the key issues of the Forum. You can see some of these on our ‘Davos debates’ on the economy, financial regulation, environment, and ethics. The major learning point was that these were much, much easier to use than the mobile phones we used last year in Davos.
Less successful was our attempt to make the Forum more participatory by turning the tables and getting delegates prepared to admit they didn’t have all the answers to 'ask the audience' via Reuters. This was a good idea in theory, and one that we'll try again, but it was a struggle to find delegates comfortable with the notion that the Davos brainpower might not be enough to solve the world’s problems.
Nevertheless, World Economic Forum President Klaus Schwab set an excellent example (and got a very healthy response):
from For the Record:
The president was inaugurated in front of adoring crowds and positive reviews in the media. As the unpopular incumbent sat on the platform with him, the new Democratic chief executive took office as the nation faced a crippling economic crisis. The incoming president was a charismatic figure who had run a brilliant campaign and had handled the press with aplomb. The media were ready to give him a break.
from Davos Notebook:
One news theme I've asked our journalists to be alert to this year is the shift in power and emphasis from est to East.
The rise of China's economic power during 30 years of reform and opening to the world is just one manifestation of this; the knowledge and service powerhouse that India has come in a globalised world is another. At Davos this year I'm moderating a panel on Asian innovation that will surely highlight software advances in Japan, Korea and Thailand as well.
A little girl in my family got a typewriter for Christmas.
Not a laptop. Nothing with a screen. A typewriter. The old-fashioned manual kind with a smeary ribbon and keys that stick.
Some years ago, an American reporter who covered religion was at Tel Aviv airport leaving Israel.
As I calculated the investment loss since the steep decline in the markets began, and particularly since the collapse of Lehman Brothers in mid-September, some questions arose (in addition to: Will I ever be able to retire?).
One of the side remarks at a debate on journalism I attended was that large British news organisations no longer cover ‘foreign news’. They cover ‘world news’. The argument at a London awards ceremony was that in a globalised world, where a multiplicity of perspectives are available on the Internet, news editors should no longer get correspondents (us) to write about foreigners (them). The belief is that the Us/Them dichotomy reinforces harmful stereotypes and encourages shallow reporting rather than deep and detailed journalism.
Much of the debate was about whether contemporary Anglo-Saxon journalism is doing enough to get beyond stereotyping. Amid that was the nagging fear that audiences do not want to part with their prejudices and that news editors will not give correspondents the opportunity to persuade them. The panel of correspondents lamented the diminishing volume of international reporting in the pages of the mainstream press and on the news programmes of major broadcasters. We know the reasons – competition for viewers and readers, pressure on budgets, an assumption that news from distant places is hard to make relevant to fickle audiences. There was a touch of vocational insecurity to the discussion. Nobody likes to think their profession is changing and is being pushed from the limelight. The panelists were reminded there never really was a golden age for foreign news (if I may be excused the term) and correspondents abroad had always struggled to grab the front page. There was some irony as well to hearing BBC friends worry about the corporation’s appetite for international journalism when, as panel moderator Allan Little pointed out, its roster of foreign correspondents has gone from 10 to over 200 in the last two decades.
I was in Cape Cod last week to talk about social media – blogs and social networks and all that — at Hubbard One’s ‘Innovation Forum’. (Hubbard One is a Thomson Reuters company providing website services to law firms.) When first invited I had reservations. I know very little about the legal profession and, while I try not to take this personally, my lawyer friends are openly contemptuous of the media and reserve particular scorn for bloggers. But the organisers said not to worry — they needed someone with “out of industry experience who could stimulate new thinking”. Perhaps sensing my scepticism they added that the guest speaker a few years ago had been a chef.
On the plane from London I was still worrying about how to engage the lawyers (or were they attorneys?) and increasingly discomforted about the idea of following the chef, who by this point had become in my mind a natural entertainer with a slick live show almost certainly involving dramatic knife-work. But then I stumbled across a line in the book I was reading (Josh Bernoff and Charlene Li’s excellent ‘Groundswell’) suggesting that all companies were now media companies since they have to manage complex information flows to both their staff and to customers, and this seemed to offer some hope.
Is there a responsibility owed by journalists to the countries we report on?
A big topic, for sure, and one I was thinking about during a debate organised by The Orwell Prize on ‘Is journalism failiing failing states?’ Ostensibly the panel were discussing the adequacy of coverage of places like Congo, Burundi and Afghanistan. Adequacy for what, you might ask, and the discussion revealed a gap between the role some wanted journalism to play in crisis zones and what it actually achieves. Some sense of duty to inform, to shine a light in dark places and to educate motivates a lot of coverage of the world’s trouble spots. Yet the high-minded pursuit of truth is compromised by the impatience of viewers and readers, who respond to human drama rather than deep detail and nuance. It is also compromised by the ego indulgence of reporters who put themselves rather than their subjects at the centre of a story. And it is compromised by the decreasing ability of big news organisations to fund foreign reporting. John Lloyd of the FT and the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism suggested we can no longer expect to get in the mass media the complex information needed for deep understanding. We must turn to books, long-form journalism and blogs, he argued, which necessarily have smaller audiences.
So if ‘failed state’ reporting is often flawed, is it still worth doing? By and large yes, the panel agreed. For what purpose, though? That discussion touched on the efficacy of the journalism of engagement versus the school of dispassionate observation. The BBC’s Jeremy Bowen recalled the coverage of the Bosnian war was motivated by a burning sense that the injustices and inhumanities of that conflict could not remain concealed. It was derided as ‘something must be done’ journalism by the then Conservative government in Britain, but arguably it had an effect on awakening public opinion. Panellist David Loyn of the BBC, who has just published on Afghanistan, wondered if coverage there since 2001 has actually been unhelpful. Over-simplification, distortions of history, failure to portray the perspectives of ordinary Afghans and unquestioning acceptance of a flawed Western strategy were hallmarks of most reporting on the confict, he argued.