Listening to communities is how we shape the journalism of the future #GdnCMS

By Matt Abbott | 15th Mar 2017

It may be that journalism can be saved. But it won’t be by journalists writing articles about what needs to be done. It will be by an informed citizenry, Jeff Jarvis professor and director of the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism at CUNY’s Graduate School of Journalism said today (March 15th).

He was speaking at the Guardian Changing Media Summit 2017 on whether technology distorts the truth, and how readers can assess trust and authority in a platform age.

“Journalists are bad at listening,” Jarvis said. “We think we inform the public debate when, in fact, we should be reflecting the debate by listening more carefully to the needs of the community, and then deliver context-specific journalism.”

The prescription Jarvis gave was for the present misinformation sickness afflicting ‘mass media’ – an idea, he says, that no longer exists: “we are in a post-mass age”.

It is true. Although the media has always been partisan it needs to find ways of working together creatively to bring about significant change.

Jarvis believes we should reconsider journalism as the ‘finished product’, ditch our reliance on the article as the best vessel for delivering information, and instead, go to where the conversation is, and provide news on, and by partnering with, context-specific platforms.

Interestingly, while independent community publishers do not escape Jarvis’s sermon, they are in the enviable position of being able to eavesdrop on these conversations in real-time, due to their proximity to their audience.

Furthermore, levels of innovation are staggeringly high in the hyperlocal sector. Publishers are less likely to have to jump through corporate hoops in order to experiment with new technologies, ideas and platforms. In some respects, they are the beta testers for the whole industry.

Could these publishers, therefore, provide insight into how the future of journalism can be shaped with individuals and the community in the driving seat?

Perhaps. But Jarvis believes we need to go one step further. If journalists are bad at listening, then the old trope that the public should become media literate needs to be inverted. “The media needs to become ‘public literate’ he said.

Digital giants will be the educators here, teaching media how to build and connect relationships and personalisation with information and brands.

Talking with Patrick Walker, Facebook’s Director of Media Partnerships for Europe, Middle East & Africa, Jarvis said that digital giants have done a much better job at educating people on what ‘real’ content is, vs fake and paid-for content.

As a trade-off, Facebook, Google and other platforms need to a better job at surfacing brands, so that readers can be sure they are accessing trusted sites.

The most popular sound-bite came when he talked of advertisers’ obsessions with reach. “Reach,” he said, “leads to cats, Kardashians, and crap.” Meaning that if we don’t understand the audience well enough, we’ll keep serving them the same old worthless fodder time and again.

“Let’s bring memes to journalism, wikis, and social tokens as valuable ways to disseminate news,” he said.

He closed the talk on a positive note with a nod to the Gutenberg Press.

The printing press was invented by German Johannes Gutenberg in 1440. It took another 77 years before Martin Luther nailed his Theses to the door of the All Saint’s Church, in Wittenberg. And it wasn’t until 1690 that the world got its first newspaper.

“It’s very possible,” Jarvis said, “that our Martin Luther is yet to be born.”

Elsewhere at the Summit, NMA Chair and CEO of Johnston Press, Ashley Highfield, sat down with News UK, Joe Media, CNN and Shortlist, of which the most insightful remarks came from Joe Media.

Joe Media’s CEO, Will Hayward, pointed out that while reach is still a very valuable metric, having a meaningful brand is increasingly what advertisers are looking for.

For those wishing to target and recruit younger audiences, Shortlist Media CEO, Ella Dolphin extolled the virtue of the email newsletter saying, “they just seem to like them.”

And CCO of News UK, Dominic Carter gave a boost to publishers with, or considering rolling out paywalls saying: “People are prepared to pay for quality journalism – The Times is proof of that.”

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