Bear witness — but then what?

“There needs to be calls to action, or at least discussion, that give meaning to the reams of primary documents.”

It’s going to get harder to look away. It’s also going to get harder to get closer.

As I type this, Syrian citizens are on Facebook, saying their goodbyes. They’re also on Twitter, saying their goodbyes. For all I know, they’re on Snapchat, Instagram, WhatsApp, and more, uploading tragedy one message at a time. And yet, the world can’t seem to do anything other than stare.

reyhan-harmanciThis past year, news consumers were faced again and again with the dilemma: Do I look? Is it ethical to watch someone livestreaming a police shooting? Is it ethical not to watch? Often, I’d bargain with myself to avoid having the images floating around my head. If I read the stories, then I won’t have to watch the body camera footage. I don’t know if that’s right; some days, it was just too much to take in. With violent or upsetting imagery, there’s also the danger of empathy fatigue. The sheer volume of material, many of it taken by machines (drones, surveillance cameras) makes it hard to stay engaged.

Journalists and the public have a responsibility to bear witness — but then what? In the coming year, I hope we can develop a better framework for processing this information, much of it visual, all of it heartbreaking. We should understand the risks of watching violent or traumatic imagery, and balance that against the need to look at the world as it is, not how we wish it would be. There needs to be calls to action, or at least discussion, that give meaning to the reams of primary documents.

A few years ago, a boss told me about a focus group that explained to him what was broken about journalism. It’s not enough, said a survey respondent, for the local paper to just report that a building is on fire. If you’re standing there as part of the community, you have to help put out the fire. At the time, I scoffed: There’s often no clear way to put out those fires, and it’s not the journalist’s job to make that choice for the public. That was before I could see, say, Facebook Live from inside the fire, or read the last text messages of the terrified people trapped inside. I wonder now if we can afford to take that position.

Reyhan Harmanci is an editor at First Look Media.

Emily Goligoski   Incorporating audience feedback at scale

Moreno Cruz Osório   The year of transparency in Brazilian journalism

Mira Lowe   News literacy, bias, and “Hamilton”

Juliette De Maeyer and Dominique Trudel   A rebirth of populist journalism

David Chavern   Fake news gets solved

Hillary Frey   Forests need to burn to regrow

Pablo Boczkowski   Fake news and the future of journalism

Carrie Brown-Smith   We won’t do enough

Mary Meehan   Feeling blue in a red state

Melody Kramer   Radically rethinking design

Swati Sharma   Failing diversity is failing journalism

Mandy Velez   The audience is the source and the story

Ray Soto   VR moves from experiments to immersion

Scott Dodd   Nonprofits team up for impact

Samantha Barry   Messaging apps go mainstream

Bill Adair   The year of the fact-checking bot

Doris Truong   Connecting with diverse perspectives

Sara M. Watson   There is no neutral interface

Gabriel Snyder   The aberration of 20th-century journalism

Errin Haines   Chaos or community?

Liz McMillen   The year of deep insights

Amie Ferris-Rotman   Вслед за Россией

Tracie Powell   Building reader relationships

Cindy Royal   Preparing the digital educator-scholar hybrid

Erin Pettigrew   A year of reflection in tech

Claire Wardle   Verification takes center stage

Jon Slade   Trusted news, at a premium

P. Kim Bui   The year journalism teaches again

Dan Gillmor   Fix the demand side of news too

Keren Goldshlager   Defining a focus, and then saying no

Aja Bogdanoff   Comments start pulling their weight

Vivian Schiller   Tested like never before

Felix Salmon   Headlines matter

Maria Bustillos   “It’s true — I saw it on Facebook”

Tim Griggs   The year we stop taking sides

Francesco Marconi   The year of augmented writing

Megan H. Chan   Cultural reporting goes mainstream

Rachel Schallom   Stop flying over the flyover states

Katie Zhu   The year of minority media

Julia Beizer   Building a coherent core identity

Eric Nuzum   Podcasting stratifies into hard layers

Ken Schwencke   Disaggregation and collection

Nathalie Malinarich   Making it easy

Carla Zanoni   Prioritizing emotional health

Lee Glendinning   A call for great editing

Alice Antheaume   A new test for French media

Reyhan Harmanci   Bear witness — but then what?

Richard Tofel   The country doesn’t trust us — but they do believe us

Nushin Rashidian   A rise in high-price, high-value subscriptions

Ryan McCarthy   Platforms grow up or grow more toxic

Christopher Meighan   Unlocking a deeper mobile experience

Rachel Sklar   Women are going to get loud

Steve Henn   The next revolution is voice

Molly de Aguiar   Philanthropists galvanize around news

S.P. Sullivan   Baking transparency into our routines

Mathew Ingram   The Faustian Facebook dance continues

Priya Ganapati   Mobile websites are ready for reinvention

Liz Danzico   The triumph of the small

Ernst-Jan Pfauth   Earn trust by working for (and with) readers

Caitlin Thompson   High touch, high value

An Xiao Mina   2017 is for the attention innovators

Alberto Cairo   Communicating uncertainty to our readers

Jeremy Barr   A terrible year for Tiers B through D

Margarita Noriega   From pinning tweets to tweeting pins

Ashley C. Woods   Local journalism will fight a new fight

Elizabeth Jensen   Trust depends on the details

Jonathan Stray   A boom in responsible conservative media

Sydette Harry   Facing journalism’s history

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen   News after advertising may look like news before advertising

Joanne Lipman   The year of the drone, really

Andrew Losowsky   Building our own communities

Sam Ford   The year we talk about our awful metrics

Tim Herrera   The safe space of service journalism

Peter Sterne   A dangerous anti-press mix

Dan Colarusso   Let’s make live video we can love

David Skok   What lies beyond paywalls

Millie Tran   International expansion without colonial overtones

Matt Karolian   AI improves publishing

Laura Walker   Authentic voices, not fake news

Kathleen Kingsbury   Print as a premium offering

Andrea Silenzi   Podcasts dive into breaking news analysis

Annemarie Dooling   UGC as a path out of the bubble

Alexis Lloyd   Public trust for private realities

Michael Kuntz   Trust is the new click

Rebekah Monson   Journalism is community-as-a-service

Dhiya Kuriakose   The year of digital detoxing

Asma Khalid   The year of the newsy podcast

Juan Luis Sánchez   Your predictions are our present

Burt Herman   Local news gets interesting

Trushar Barot   API or die

Anita Zielina   The sales funnel reaches (and changes) the newsroom

Olivia Ma   The year collaboration beats competition

Tanya Cordrey   The resurgence of reach

Renée Kaplan   Pure reach has reached its limit

Nicholas Quah   Podcasting’s coming class war

Taylor Lorenz   “Selfie journalism” becomes a thing

Libby Bawcombe   Kids board the podcast train

Guy Raz   Inspiration and hope will matter more than ever

Laura E. Davis   Show your work

David Weigel   A test for online speech

Umbreen Bhatti   A sense of journalists’ humanity

Corey Ford   The year of the rebelpreneur

Kawandeep Virdee   Moving deeper than the machine of clicks

Jonathan Hunt   Measurement companies get with the times

Ole Reißmann   Un-faking the news

Ariane Bernard   Better data about your users

Matt Waite   The people running the media are the problem

Robert Hernandez   History will exclude you, again

Sarah Marshall   Focusing on the why of the click

Mark Armstrong   Time to pay up

Bill Keller   A healthy skepticism about data

Andrew Ramsammy   Rise of the rebel journalist

Sarah Wolozin   Virtual reality on the open web

Coleen O'Lear   Back to basics

Erin Millar   The bottom falls out of Canadian media

Jim Friedlich   A banner year for venture philanthropy

Valérie Bélair-Gagnon   Truthiness in private spaces

Sue Schardt   Objectivity, fairness, balance, and love

Zizi Papacharissi   Distracted journalism looks in the mirror

Lam Thuy Vo   The primary source in the age of mechanical multiplication

Geetika Rudra   Journalism is community

Helen Havlak   Chasing mobile search results

Emi Kolawole   From empathy to community

Mike Ragsdale   A smarter information diet

Andy Rossback   The year of the user

Cory Haik   Navigating power in Trump’s America

M. Scott Havens   Quality advertising to pair with quality content

Mario García   Virtual reality on mobile leaps forward

Amy O'Leary   Not just covering communities, reaching them

Tressie McMillan Cottom   A path through the media’s coming legitimacy crisis

Javaun Moradi   What can we own?

Michael Oreskes   Reversing the erosion of democracy

Dannagal G. Young   The return of the gatekeepers

Ståle Grut   The battle for high-quality VR

Rubina Madan Fillion   Snapchat grows up

Andrew Haeg   The year of listening

Amy Webb   Journalism as a service

Almar Latour   Thanks, #fakenews

Mary Walter-Brown   Getting comfortable asking for money

Adam Thomas   The coming collaboration across Europe