Distracted journalism looks in the mirror

“What is news, and what is noise? Do both deserve the same amount of attention?”

In the mad rush for platformization, attention metrics, social journalism (when has journalism not been social, by the way?), and datafication, journalism forgot its conscience at home. In hot pursuit of elusive clicks and eyeball economics, journalism left substance behind. In the midst of lists and gifs designed to attract attention, journalism neglected to take a long, critical look inward.

zizi-papacharissiOne of the casualties was an election season that did not receive the news coverage it deserved. Several other casualties will follow, as important issues like climate change, social injustices, economic inequalities, healthcare, education, and international affairs are covered to the beat of the byte instead of the steady and thoughtful rhythm of the newsroom. Several newspapers changed the tone of their coverage post-election, in an effort that read more like a knee-jerk reaction and less like a fully considered paradigm shift. The truth is, no matter how news covers the election and other important issues, it does not matter. There is a growing majority that does not pay attention to the news. And, there is a growing majority that does not trust reporters as news storytellers.

Technology is a gift for journalists. Mobile and social media afford ways to bridge the growing gap between journalists and several forgotten publics. Technology is not here to generate revenue for newsrooms. It is here to help journalists forge civic connections with communities that were left behind as small newspapers closed and media coverage became centralized.

In the battle for clickbait headlines, journalism lost its spine. It is time for journalism to a take time out for introspection — to ask who we are, who we want to be, and who we want to serve Think: What is news, and what is noise? Do both deserve the same amount of attention? Take a look in the mirror. A slow, careful, and timely look. Of course, the mirror only reveals what one wants to see.

Zizi Papacharissi is professor and head of the communication department at the University of Illinois-Chicago.

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