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Dec. 19, 2012, 1:06 p.m.

The return of sentiment

“The most masterful journalists, in their most memorable reporting, attain this perfect balance between emotion and information, color and news, the affective and the cognitive.”

Change is gradual. We see more of certain trends and less of other tendencies over time, punctuated by bursts of innovation. It is these latter bursts that we interpret as change, even though they are not. They present reactions to the long durée of change. For this reason, I checked my crystal ball at the door when I entered academia — I don’t believe in and am not interested in predicting the future. I would rather be surprised.

That disclaimer made, here is what I would like to be surprised by in 2013: The return of sentiment to news reporting, co-creating, curating. Not sentimental news, but news made better, through (yes, algorithmically generated propagation, but not redaction of) sentiment, that drives, directs, informs, and pluralizes news processes and values. Journalists have always struggled with sentiment in reporting, trying to either manage their own emotions against the objectivity dogma of Western journalism or to find meaningful ways to integrate emotion into a story in general.

This is because the balance between emotion and news is delicate. The most masterful journalists, in their most memorable reporting, attain this perfect balance between emotion and information, color and news, the affective and the cognitive. By contrast, the form of news reporting least memorable is frequently characterized by excessive emotion, and the misinformation that excess produces.

Journalists have a rare opportunity to use social media to resolve a longstanding conflict regarding the meaning of emotion in journalism, and to resolve it in ways that evolve beyond subjectivity/objectivity binaries. There is not one recipe that fits all. Different contexts call for different approaches. But, a true balance between sentiment and news can be rendered through social media, and can drive toward avant journalism(s) — that is, hybrid journalism(s) of liminality, pluralization, and disruption.

Zizi Papacharissi is professor and head of the Department of Communication at the University of Illinois at Chicago and editor of Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media.
POSTED     Dec. 19, 2012, 1:06 p.m.
PART OF A SERIES     Predictions for Journalism 2013
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