All posts filed under “Human Rights & Media

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.

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 (, 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:

Fatto Quotidiano

Italian Media on the 1500 arrivals in Lampedusa: an example of indifference

A clear-cut example on how the Italian media react to migration-related news lately is the one regarding the arrival of around 1.500 migrants to Sicily in less than 24 hours last week. The media become more and more indifferent to the issue “Migration from Libya to Sicily” unless the tragedy is both large in numbers and stands out as a sort of exceptional event.
You could find only short reports, most of which focusing on which military vessel saved how many refugees. In most cases on the day of event, this piece of news did not even make in the top headlines, at any point of the day in question. In a portal as visited as the one of “la Repubblica” it did not appear at all in the main page. Examples on the approach stressing military information and avoiding detailed information regarding the migrants follow here:
La Stampa
Libero Quotidiano
Corriere della Sera
la Repubblica

The need of a EU-wide public discussion on migration and fundamental rights

It is difficult to refuse the idea that migration is an issue affecting all member states of the EU; though several European fear mongers and nationalistic movements/parties feed the idea of the feasibility of national solutions to the issue of migrants crossing the external borders of the union, there is no evidence that the problems can be tackled/solved by the action of single member states. The example of the temporary action of the Italian government Mare Nostrum between 2013 and 2014 is an example of the un-sustainability of solutions designed along national borders.
The significance of Europe´s cultural and social plurality stands for tolerance, human dignity, mutual respect and freedom, as central features of the post 1945 (and even more of the post 1989) order. Through the development of a regional system of human rights defence, the integration of its economies and even more vividly with the demise of socialism in Eastern Europe, the European project can be truly spelled out in the light of the principles of the UN declaration and the European Convention on Human Rights. It is no coincidence that with the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights gained a new legal status within the architecture of the EU. But shortcomings in the defence of fundamental rights in the EU remain and are painfully evident in the migration issues.
Whereas EU institutions seem more prone nowadays to apply a growing communitarian approach to the security issues related to migration (border controls, visa regimes, monitoring, surveillance), there is no indication that assisting migrants and securing them the enjoyment of fundamental rights also represent priorities of EU policy making; they rather depend on the good will of single member states or of NGOs´ engagement.
Europe would definitely not be what it has become if it was not for the massive injection of populations and cultures from other regions of the world; at the same time political, demographic and economic drives pushed millions of Europeans to the most remote areas of the planet and secured them new, challenging life opportunities.
When we look at how migration-related events are reported in national media, we can both find some limited common features and substantial differences in the way events are reported, causes explained, comments and opinions shared. We need more common discussion, comparison of opinions and attitudes, more open-mindedness, more language proficiency.
It is a shared opinions, that the European Parliament shall gain more and more influence in the policy making process; more than any new constitutional arrangement though, what is highly needed is a Europe-wide discussion and public debate about which kind of Union the EU shall become; not only Troika-related issues, rating forecasts and new trade agreements, the European project needs to spell out where it stands in the promotion and defence of fundamental rights: even though it can appear dangerous to carry out such a debate in a period of delusion and skepticism among citizens, there is no alternative to it, if the EU is to become anything more complex than the translation into an international organisation of corporate business thinking.

The day before yesterday 30 migrants died freezing on a boat not far from Lampedusa.

SZ in German

Guardian in English

Repubblica in Italian