Good journalism won’t be enough

“If journalists want the public to listen, then journalists have to listen to the public. If journalists want the public to care, then journalists have to care about the public.”

In 2018, good journalism will not be enough.

The prevailing attitude in many newsrooms is that if reporters just keep their heads down and do good journalism, it ought to be enough. Enough for the public to trust it, enough to convince people that it’s essential to democracy, enough to make the business sustainable, enough to ignore charges of it being too white and too male, and enough to safeguard against disinformation. And — the thinking goes — if the public can’t appreciate good reporting, well, then that’s on “them” and not on “us.”

In fact, newsrooms that want to build enduring trust and robust public support for quality journalism will have to reckon with some of their failings, including decades of insisting that they alone know what stories to write, clinging to “both sides” journalism, and using language that obfuscates, like sexual “misconduct,” “untruths,” and “officer-involved shooting.”

This isn’t just my opinion. I’ve seen firsthand how these attitudes and style of reporting are perceived by the public.

As part of its News Voices project, Free Press has hosted nearly 20 events over the past two years across New Jersey to ask the public: How’s local journalism doing in your community? What’s working? What isn’t? Are they listening to you?

I’ve attended several of these events, and time and again I’ve heard concerned community members say:

“We are tired of every story being about crime or death. It’s all clickbait.”

“Journalists perpetuate racist stereotypes about our community.”

“We need more and better information.”

“We want news that is useful and offers solutions.”

Just the other night at a News Voices event at the College of New Jersey, I listened to a group of five students discuss the need for more in-depth coverage to help them develop empathy and understanding for unfamiliar people and places across the state.

And yet, I also recently listened to a prominent national journalist tell a roomful of funders and journalists, “People don’t care about the news, and it’s not my job to make them care.”

What, then, is the job of a journalist who doesn’t care whether or not the audience cares about the news?

If journalists want the public to listen, then journalists have to listen to the public. If journalists want the public to care, then journalists have to care about the public.

We know that a good story can spark shifts in society in big ways and small. But good stories are not enough to ensure the long-term viability of journalism. So…what will?

If journalism is to thrive, it must pair trustworthy facts with trust-building practices. This means moving beyond the often extractive “community engagement” practices and toward “community collaboration.” It means listening to understand without being defensive (like, don’t call widespread and agreed-upon criticism “the most ridiculous overreaction”). If journalism is to thrive, it must fix its foolish lack of diversity in newsroom staff, sources, and stories. It must also uphold democracy by being more democratic in its newsgathering process, and take bold action in defense of the First Amendment by partnering with media justice activists.

Perhaps most importantly, if journalism is to thrive well into the future, it must acknowledge and fight against its contributions to maintaining the status quo, both on the front page and inside the newsroom. Journalists should use their privilege to be in solidarity with people whose stories are rarely told, who are leading struggles for meaningful community change. Good journalism challenges power, rather than cozying up to it.

What is exciting, and what fills me with hope, is that we’re seeing forward-thinking organizations and their leaders redefine what it means to do good journalism. The Listening Post Collective, Education NC’s Reach NC Voices, and Outlier Media are all meeting people where they are, taking time to listen and ask questions about what information they need, and building creative ways to provide it to them, whether it be through text messaging, shared meals, or in one case, a community baby shower.

I am also deeply encouraged by the Gather platform, where already more than a thousand journalists, dedicated to a vision of people-powered journalism, share their ideas, make new connections, learn new skills, and support one another. The stronger this network gets, the bigger it grows, the more we all move in the direction of real and meaningful trust between newsrooms and the public.

It is time to discard the perception of “good journalism” as being enough. Whether newsrooms want to acknowledge it or not, there’s a substantial disconnect between them and the public on the role of journalism in our communities and for our democracy. Ignoring that disconnect will not make it go away.

Instead, let 2018 be the year that journalism starts by listening and believing that people do actually, deeply care about quality news and information. May this be the year journalism lifts up the voices of people of color, women, and those on the margins, embraces trust-building practices, takes a stand for press freedom, and teaches us how power works.

Mike Rispoli, News Voices director at Free Press, contributed to this piece.

Molly de Aguiar is the managing director for the News Integrity Initiative at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.

Molly de Aguiar   Good journalism won’t be enough

Matt Boggie   The intellectual equivalent of the Dead Sea

Alan Soon   The rise of start of psychographic, micro-targeted media

Matt Thompson   Here come the attention managers

Michael Kuntz   The only pivot that might work

Rachel Schallom   Better design helps differentiate opinion and news

Evie Nagy   Pivot to mobile video frustration

José Zamora   Revenue-first journalism

Francesco Marconi   The year of machine-to-machine journalism

Federica Cherubini   The rise of bridge roles in news organizations

Sally Lehrman   Trust comes first

Jake Levine   The return to now

Kelsey Proud   No, no, no

Tim Carmody   Watch out for Spotify

Nushin Rashidian   Publishers seek ad dollar alternatives

Sarah Marshall   Loyalty as the key performance indicator

Miguel Castro   The arrival of the impact producer

Andrew Ramsammy   The year ownership mattered

Pia Frey   Address users as individuals

Emily Goligoski   Looking beyond news for inspiration

Alexios Mantzarlis   Moving fake news research out of the lab

Almar Latour   Conquering calm

Caitria O'Neill   The new court of public opinion

Richard J. Tofel   The platforms’ power demands more reporters’ attention

Sam Ford   The year of investing in processes

Doris Truong   Computer vision vs. the Internet vigilantes

Alice Antheaume   Are you fluent in AI?

Marie Gilot   No assholes allowed

Nikki Usher   The year of The Washington Post

Mandy Velez   texting is lit rn, fam

Bill Keller   A growing turn to philanthropy

John Keefe   Scooped by AI

Kinsey Wilson   Facebook and Google: Help out or pay up

Debra Adams Simmons   And a woman shall lead them

Dan Shanoff   You down with OTT? (Yeah, DTC)

Helen Havlak   Keywords, not publishers, power the world’s biggest feeds

Kawandeep Virdee   Zines had it right all along

Mariana Moura Santos   Think local, act global

Lucas Graves   From algorithms to institutions

Feli Sánchez   The year for guerrilla user research

C.W. Anderson   The social media apocalypse

Emma Carew Grovum   Newsroom culture becomes a priority

Edward Roussel   Eyes, ears, and brains

Jassim Ahmad   Thriving on change

Tanya Cordrey   Finally, the seeds of radical reinvention

Adam Thomas   Sharing is caring: The year of the mentor

Christopher Meighan   Passive partnership is in the rearview

Sue Schardt   Jump the niche

Jamie Mottram   From pageviews to t-shirts

Borja Echevarría   TV goes digital, digital goes TV

Kim Fox   Audience teams diversify their approach

An Xiao Mina   Memes and visuals come to the fore

Matt Carlson   Attacks on the press will get worse

Imaeyen Ibanga   Longform video leads the way

Jennifer Brandel and Mónica Guzmán   The editorial meeting of the future

Cindy Royal   Your journalism curriculum is obsolete

Hannah Cassius   The year of the echo-chamber escapists

Craig Newmark   Working together toward sustainable solutions

Joanne Lipman   Journalists inventing revenue streams

Ariana Tobin   Too tired to tap

Michelle Ferrier   The year of the great reckoning

Manoush Zomorodi   Self-help as a publishing strategy

Jesse Holcomb   Information disorder, coming to a congressional district near you

Susie Banikarim   R.I.P. Pivot to Video (2017–2017)

Usha Sahay   Wallets get opened

Mira Lowe   The year of the local watchdog

Cristina Wilson   The year of the Instagram Story

Corey Johnson   The pro-fact resistance

Mike Caulfield   Refactoring media literacy for the networked age

Nicholas Diakopoulos   Fortifying social media from automated inauthenticity

Alfred Hermida   Going beyond mobile-first

Elizabeth Jensen   Show your work

Cory Haik   Suffering from realness, pivoting to impact

Luke O'Neil   The end is already here

Joanne McNeil   Gatekeeping the gatekeepers

Juleyka Lantigua-Williams   Women of color will reclaim and monetize our time

Julia Beizer   A longer view on the pivot

Zizi Papacharissi   Women come back

Niketa Patel   Live journalism comes of age

L. Gordon Crovitz   Serving readers over advertisers

Kyle Ellis   Let’s build our way out of this

Michelle Garcia   Navigating journalistic transparency

Caitlin Thompson   Podcasting models mature and diversify

Basile Simon   We need better career paths for news nerds

Sara M. Watson   Feeds will open up to new user-determined filters

Neha Gandhi   Filler killers

Frédéric Filloux   External forces

Tamar Charney   We get serious about algorithms

Mariano Blejman   News games rule

Justin Kosslyn   The year journalists become digital security experts

Pablo Boczkowski   The rise of skeptical reading

Julia B. Chan   Looking for loyalty in all the right places

Jim Moroney   Newspapers have to be good enough for readers to pay for

Rodney Gibbs   Tech workers turn to journalism

Aron Pilhofer   We can’t leave the business to the business side any more

Errin Haines Whack   At the ballot, it’s time to count black women

Rodney Benson   Better, less read, and less trusted

Sam Sanders   Shine the light on ourselves

Brian Lam   Sketchy ethics around product reviews

Will Sommer   The year local media gets conservative

Raju Narisetti   Mirror, mirror on the wall

Taylor Lorenz   Social and media will split

Jessica Parker Gilbert   Design connects storytelling and strategy

Daniel Trielli   The rich get richer, the poor scramble

Damon Krukowski   Reviving the alt-weekly soul

Heather Bryant   Building the ecosystems for collaboration

Rachel Davis Mersey   AI, with real smarts

Jared Newman   Venture funding and digital news don’t mix

Claire Wardle   Disinformation gets worse

Rick Berke   Value is the watchword

Hossein Derakhshan   Television has won

Mary Walter-Brown   Show a little vulnerability

P. Kim Bui   The reckoning is only beginning

Valérie Bélair-Gagnon   Seeking trust in fragmented spaces

Tanzina Vega   It’s time for media companies to #PassTheMic

Jarrod Dicker   Honesty in advertising

Jacqui Cheng   Retailers move into content

Burt Herman   Things get real

Tracie Powell   The muting of underserved voices

Pete Brown   Push alerts, personalized

Kathleen McElroy   Building a news video experience native to mobile

Rubina Madan Fillion   Unlocking the potential of AI

Matt DeRienzo   A recession, then a collapse

Umbreen Bhatti   The trust problem isn’t new

Alastair Coote   The year of self-improvement

Steve Grove   The midterms are an opportunity

Kristen Muller   The year of the voter

Monika Bauerlein   The firehose of falsehood

Jim Brady   With the people, not just of the people

Juliette De Maeyer   A responsible press criticism

Eric Nuzum   Beyond the narrative arc

Paul Ford   Go global

Yvonne Leow   The rise of video messaging

Monique Judge   Letting black women tell their own stories

S. Mitra Kalita   The arc of news and audience

Jennifer Coogan   The future is female

Raney Aronson-Rath   Transparency is the antidote to fake news

Marcela Donini and Thiago Herdy   Collaboration is the way forward for Brazilian journalism

Mary Meehan   Real lives are at stake in rural areas

Carlos Martínez de la Serna   The new journalism commons

Betsy O'Donovan and Melody Kramer   Skepticism and narcissism

Ernst-Jan Pfauth   Publishing less to give readers more

Lanre Akinola   Making noise is not a strategy

Lam Thuy Vo   Breaking free from the tyranny of the loudest

Andrew Haeg   The year journalists become relationship builders

Dan Newman   A return to trust

Mi-Ai Parrish   Blockchain and trust

David Skok   Finding an information-life balance

Charo Henríquez   Training is an investment, not an expense

Ray Soto   VR reaches the next level

Amy Webb   Listen to weak signals

Mario García   Storytelling finally adapts to mobile

Millie Tran and Stine Bauer Dahlberg   (Hint: It’s about your brand)

Corey Ford   The empire strikes back

Laura E. Davis   Writing answers before you know the question

Dannagal G. Young   Stop covering politics as a game

Amy King   Let’s amplify visual voice

Sydette Harry   Listen to your corner and watch for the hook

Vivian Schiller   Pivot to tomorrow

Nancy Watzman   Know thy TV

Dheerja Kaur   Fun with subscription products

Jennifer Choi   Standing up for us and for each other

Ståle Grut   Reclaiming audience interaction from social networks

Amie Ferris-Rotman   More female reporters abroad (please)

Nicholas Quah   Stop talking trash about young people

Joyce Barnathan   It will be harder to bury the news

Trushar Barot   The Jio-fication of India

Andrew Losowsky   The year of resilience

Vanessa K. DeLuca   Women’s voices take center stage

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen   The Snapchat scenario and the risk of more closed platforms

Renée Kaplan   The year of quiet adjustments (shhh)

Carrie Brown-Smith   Transparency finally takes off

Nathalie Malinarich   Peak push

Ruth Palmer   Risks will grow for news subjects — especially minorities

Felix Salmon   Covering bitcoin while owning bitcoin

Eric Ulken   The year local publishers get smart(er) about change