By David Walmsley
Making a positive difference to someone’s life is the greatest gift a journalist can give. Perhaps an individual is heard for the first time, or an injustice is settled.
Those moments when a news editor picks up a phone to hear a scared voice say, ‘you are all I have left, I have nowhere else to turn’. The last stand between hope and defeat.
It is a sacred contract, as old as journalism itself yet the tenor of our times would try to divide the people from the newsrooms. If those who attempt to turn journalists into the enemy are successful, the people’s right to independent access to information will be lost. And as we all know a world where people are blinded from facts is a dangerous one.
During the global pandemic, record audience numbers were reported around the world as readers, viewers and listeners absorbed the news and information that saved lives. Nevertheless, an ever more vociferous minority pedalled a derogatory term, the so-called “mainstream media” – as if being together in a fact-based environment is a bad thing.
That’s because the facts can sometimes be uncomfortable, and journalists have a big responsibility to get them right.
We know that since World News Day began in 2018, the challenges facing the industry have only grown. We may better understand the commercial pressures and the ever-changing audience habits, but we still don’t do enough to explain ourselves.
That means newsrooms have their work cut out. Explaining methodology and how facts are uncovered has become as important as the facts themselves.
Those who are potential audience members consume most of their information in closed, fast-paced networks. We have seen examples time and again where small but active minority groups simply believe what they are told, often by powerful forces with something to hide. The journalist is used as bait in an attack against uncomfortable truths. As a result, the industry has to devote more time to reaching those who have already decided the facts even without possessing them.
Walled environments exist across the Internet preventing plurality of thought and opinion, fact and reality from being shared. Amid the myriad challenges facing us all, certainty is one of the least attractive traits on display.
World News Day, involving more than 500 newsrooms, is a global initiative aimed at improving media literacy and audience engagement. We include examples of how lives are improved when journalists tell a story. We showcase the efforts of small newsrooms as they represent the importance of community. We underpin all our work with the belief that access to information is a human right.
The speed of change, and the dangers and risks in society sometimes seem only to go in one direction leading to a global audience that is both exhausted and saturated with information. We have constructive roles to play amid the extraordinary news developments.
The convening power of independent journalism has never been more important, and sadly because of that hyper-relevance the risks and threats to journalists, your storytellers, only grows. The speed of polarization, an 18th century term used originally to identify the characteristics of light in photography, today makes agreement unfashionable. But as newsrooms around the world often say, we are all entitled to our opinions but we are not entitled to our own facts.
War, economic uncertainty, a determination to run roughshod over generational practices at our institutions are the changes facing the world. Journalism at its best is in the middle of it all, with a role to sew not division but mutual understanding and transparency.
World News Day exists to help the news industry to explain itself better, to involve the global audience in showcasing how accurate information makes life better.
The US president, Joe Biden, was born closer to Abraham Lincoln’s presidency than his own. That perspective shows less the age of the man and more the opportunities and advances that have been taken in the past century, raising with urgency the questions of where we go from here.