Journalism and data: business models and social functions

Journalism has undergone large and defining changes since the internet and digital technology. It is poised to keep doing so in the years to come, so many pundits.

As true as this assumption sounds and is, my question – to which I have no answer yet but towards which I pay the respect of a critical (morozovian, if you wish) attitude – is whether the biggest confusion arisen in the last two decades has been about the economic models for journalism, rather than about the defining elements of what journalism is.

The latter traces back to what we have learnt at school and university about media, freedom of expression, state-owned vs. private owned media outlets and so on (you can state they were mostly models of a liberal political science theory of democracy) and about the kind of intellectual work and social competences required to produce good and indipendent journalism.

On the contrary the first set of ideas seems to me coming from a larger bias we hear louder and louder these days. To sum it up roughly the bias goes: it is digital, it is disrupting thus it will be good (if not better).

Some other people suggest to put it in a different way, though coming out with similar believes: internet has changed everything, there is no alternative to this development, thus it will be good (if not better).

According to these views, and peer-pressured to become more digitally friendly, journalism needs to run after different models of creation, duration, consumption and sustainability, developed by an industry based on marketing and advertising revenues. If you look at the data about internet users behaviour, you can easily imagine that for journalistic work this means – day in day out – to squeeze into social media. The consequences of such consumption patterns are evident: at a conference organised by N-Ost last year in Berlin, some of them were discussed by Angela Phillips from Goldsmith University.

This alone equals to acknowledging a lenghty and yet very likely death to independent,, fact-checked, investigative journalistic work for how we know it and a growing distrust of media as a mean of delivering information and opinion about facts and events.

The push for more data journalism is one symptom of this troublesome condition. In its core parts, it seems a good idea to slip more data into journalistic work, to make use of more and more statistical models and open data.
Yet the decisive, game-changing part of journalism at its best (i.e. to uncover stories, explain linkages and make sure that a story speaks to the readers) is put aside so that the medium becomes also the aim, while the content becomes a secondary element of a new internet-of-things-friendly model of producing and consuming news.

I am not sure that running after the supposed advantages of a technological improvement will solve the evident troubles we are experiencing, at least not until a fair and convinced discussion is raised about the essential and indispensable social and political functions journalist work shall play in our societies.

I am aware that this observation is partial and not conclusive; as a matter of fact it is also not the main focus of this blog.

In my next post, I am going to talk more about the role migration played in the media coverage of the 2016 presidential election and will try to figure out what could possibly be the implication for the upcoming elections in several European constituencies. Sneak peek is an article by Eric Kaufmann, published on the LSE Blog few days after Trump’s election.

This article has been drafted on a sunny Berlin day, with the unrivalled support of the 2010 self-titled album by A Winged Victory for the Sullen

First draft November 13 2016

Datajournalism in the last 10 years

One year of silence is a bit too long for a blog.
So starting exactly 357 days later, yes it has been an olympic year, I start again with this blog.

The relevance of migration on Italian media seems to evaporate steadier than it is the case in the German ones.
The rise of AfD in the latter country could very well be a reason for this difference, as unfortunately the right wing party not only gained votes and coverage, rather also has been able – through the misfortunes of the two governments parties and the tacit support of the Bavarian CDU – to set the terms of the public discussion.

Nevertheless I would like to come bring back to life this online tool with another input, which has been the most interesting thing I read this week – I even printed it out (!)

It is the speech Nicolas Kayser-Bril from Jplusplus gave at the MINDS conference in Copenhagen, on 20 October 2016 on the state of datajournalism and its development over the last 10 years.

I realised that the developments had taken place over a longer period of time than I imagined.
On the other side I am still dubious about the idea of what exactly journalism and newspapers both are and ought to be; and I think that on this respect it is not possible to substitute the functions they provide by simply adding more data analysis and by making them look like other online services.
Whether this is a conservationist position or not is what I am going to explain more in detail in my next post.

It will come way sooner than the previous one.

Absolute numbers vs Percentages

After an unnecessary long summer break, here I am now.

An online article by the Guardian puts into perspective the number on arrivals of migrants to the EU, the number of filings for asylum in each country, as well as the relative weigth of each compared to the total population of each member state.

Link

From the numbers emerge, among others, the different sides of the migration-to-the-EU phenomenon: arrival vs asylum ; absolute vs relative magnitude ; reality vs media report/politicians’ views.

EU countries are faced with different aspects of the problem, though  refuse to undergo a real EU-wide policy review of the s.c. Dublin System thus minizing the possibility of finding a sustainable way to cope with migration.

image

An example of the situation in Kos

At the same time the discussions on the exhorbitant levels of migrants  (sic) continue, sadly enough often in those countries less affected by it.

The sudden resignation of Greece’s PM is surely no positive piece of news for the migrants stranded in the Greek islands either. More and more weeks of political deadlock and a continue shortage of political will, economic means and international aid are going to result in a situation even more dramatic than that in Spain, Malta or Italy.

Migrant files #2 part

Very interesting European project, bringing together journalists form all over the continent, the migrantfiles came out today with a second part of their investigative work.
The results are available in different languages, over different platforms. Could this be a model for development of a European space for discussion on the media? An international group working together, though delivering along language and national borders?

SRF (CH)
Der Standard (AUT)
Espresso (IT)

The first part of their project available here

Short note: attitudes more than content: Italy and FIFA

If journalism is also a method of inquiring reality and if investigative journalism is a way of bringing this credo a step further, Italian newspapers showed a discouraging lack of interest for the latest scandals regarding corruption and bribery inside the FIFA. Here a sort of live ticker from the Guardian.
If not even football – the one and only national religion in Italy – instills energy, curiosity, resilience and will of delivery into a dozy media landscape in the country, what will do?

May summary: migration on media in IT and GER

The new concept form the European Commission on how to deal with migrants became an agenda last week, on May 13th (Agenda)
The content of this agenda has been analysed and commented at large by all major media houses in Europe, Italy and Germany too.
The differences in how this took place could be summarised as follows though: the Italian coverage on the migration-related events went not much further than that; German analysis continued the analysis of the many related aspects, such as the growing number of migrants saved (Zeit.de), the condition of migrants and asylum seekers once they are are granted a temporary stay; it also took a much more critical stance on the many ambiguous points the concept leaves uncleared.
In my understanding that has been possible in Germany since many newspapers stories focused on migration in the days after the tragedy as well as the days heading to the presentation of the concept. Another reason for that is Italy´s attitude towards Ms Mogherini: being a national plays down the many critical points and general statements she delivered at the UN and within the EU meetings, even more in a country being described as pro EU, pro UN and not very self-reflective since decades.
On top of that by the beginning of May Italy´s media reporting was overwhelmed by the reporting on the launch of this year EXPO (link) so that migration had become again a minor topic for all major newspapers. The simple fact that more lives were saved than migrants drowned created a spiral of growing incuriosity.
The opening of the world exposition managed to focus most media coverage around the premier and the event so that even the usually highly covered 1st of May celebration – with its focus on workers´ rights and working conditions – became a minor event when compared with the one in Milan.
News about migration turned into headlines once a child was found at the border with Spain inside a luggage or alternatively when a baby was born on a vessel. Once more in depth analysis or stories centred around what refugees are confronted with missed to reach relevance.
This one short commentary by M.S. Natale on the Corriere della Sera from May 12 sums up vividly and tragically how the discussion within the EU misses the real point: “Migranti: La Solidarietà dell´Europa con se stessa

More interesting articles:
GER
FAZ
SZ

IT
Internazionale
Fatto Quotidiano