20200
P
1
20100
R  E
2
2070
D   I   C
3
2050
T   I   O   N
4
2040
S   F   O   R   J
5
2030
O  U  R  N  A  L
6
2020
I  S  M  2  0  2  0
7

20 questions for 2020

“Though people generally could stand to be better informed than they are at the moment, when is too much news, well, too much?”

We like symmetry in numbers. So here are 20 (mostly hypothetical) questions that could prompt some reflection as we enter 2020:

1. What if journalists were to cut the time they spend on Twitter in half?

2. Or what if their bosses, the ones who over the past decade insisted on reporters being active on Twitter, were wrong all along — that social media use, on balance, would never be the net positive that many imagined?

3. What if journalists individually and news organizations collectively had a better understanding of the things they do that actually create value (economic, societal, or otherwise)?

4. And what if they had a better sense for what stands in the way of their doing more of the high-value and less of the low-value work?

5. What if research about journalism — of which we have so much, more than ever! — were more fully integrated into the way that universities teach journalism?

6. How might that change, for one thing, the way that journalists tend to look so skeptically on people who study the media — even as they give overwhelming deference to economists, lawyers, psychologists, sociologists, and political scientists (roughly in that order) when it comes to sourcing experts, even on issues where communication scholars have important things to add to the conversation?

7. Or, more consequentially, what might finally help us bridge the persistent gap between academic research and industry practice, to the betterment of both?

8. What if newsrooms produced less news but had greater impact?

9. How would the conversation around the sharing of misinformation be different if we more fully recognized that communication is as much a ritual experience — a cultural means of identity and community and self-expression — as it is about the functional transmission of information?

10. Who will bring much-needed nuance to the public debate about filter bubbles and echo chambers, particularly at a time when pundits proclaim one thing and empirical evidence seems to suggest another?

11. How can we better account for social inequalities in who gets news?

12. If lower-income people generally get lower-quality information, and if the transition to paywalls and elite-oriented nonprofit news only exacerbates information asymmetries, what would a journalism look like that prioritizes serving the poor?

13. What would news organizations do differently if they better realized what a frustrating and fraught experience it is for many people, across the political spectrum, to consume news much of the time?

14. Would they start with simply rethinking and redesigning, entirely from scratch, how news products are labeled — for example, to clarify differences that bother people about what’s news vs. what’s opinion, or what “news analysis” is supposed to mean?

15. Or would it involve more transparently explaining the reporting process, the use (and abuse) of anonymous sources, and why some voices appear in the news more than others?

16. What if relational forms of journalism — ones that emphasize building relationships with communities and developing more mutually beneficial interactions with audiences (yes, ones I’ve argued for) — sound nice in theory but assume that people want to participate in news more than they actually do?

17. Or what if the forces that are pushing journalists to develop a personal brand online are also putting those same journalists (especially women and minorities) into more compromising situations of hostility and harassment?

18. Though people generally could stand to be better informed than they are at the moment, when is too much news, well, too much?

19. Or: When does news begin to harm more than it helps?

20. If, in the end, there’s more to celebrate than lament about the state of journalism, and if we want to preserve what we prize and appreciate about journalism, how can we more forcefully defend the press as an institution — particularly in the face of authoritarian attack — even while just as readily acknowledging its broken parts and urging their repair?

That’s a question worth considering in 2020 and beyond.

Seth C. Lewis is the Shirley Papé Chair in Emerging Media in the School of Journalism and Communication at the University of Oregon.

We like symmetry in numbers. So here are 20 (mostly hypothetical) questions that could prompt some reflection as we enter 2020:

1. What if journalists were to cut the time they spend on Twitter in half?

2. Or what if their bosses, the ones who over the past decade insisted on reporters being active on Twitter, were wrong all along — that social media use, on balance, would never be the net positive that many imagined?

3. What if journalists individually and news organizations collectively had a better understanding of the things they do that actually create value (economic, societal, or otherwise)?

4. And what if they had a better sense for what stands in the way of their doing more of the high-value and less of the low-value work?

5. What if research about journalism — of which we have so much, more than ever! — were more fully integrated into the way that universities teach journalism?

6. How might that change, for one thing, the way that journalists tend to look so skeptically on people who study the media — even as they give overwhelming deference to economists, lawyers, psychologists, sociologists, and political scientists (roughly in that order) when it comes to sourcing experts, even on issues where communication scholars have important things to add to the conversation?

7. Or, more consequentially, what might finally help us bridge the persistent gap between academic research and industry practice, to the betterment of both?

8. What if newsrooms produced less news but had greater impact?

9. How would the conversation around the sharing of misinformation be different if we more fully recognized that communication is as much a ritual experience — a cultural means of identity and community and self-expression — as it is about the functional transmission of information?

10. Who will bring much-needed nuance to the public debate about filter bubbles and echo chambers, particularly at a time when pundits proclaim one thing and empirical evidence seems to suggest another?

11. How can we better account for social inequalities in who gets news?

12. If lower-income people generally get lower-quality information, and if the transition to paywalls and elite-oriented nonprofit news only exacerbates information asymmetries, what would a journalism look like that prioritizes serving the poor?

13. What would news organizations do differently if they better realized what a frustrating and fraught experience it is for many people, across the political spectrum, to consume news much of the time?

14. Would they start with simply rethinking and redesigning, entirely from scratch, how news products are labeled — for example, to clarify differences that bother people about what’s news vs. what’s opinion, or what “news analysis” is supposed to mean?

15. Or would it involve more transparently explaining the reporting process, the use (and abuse) of anonymous sources, and why some voices appear in the news more than others?

16. What if relational forms of journalism — ones that emphasize building relationships with communities and developing more mutually beneficial interactions with audiences (yes, ones I’ve argued for) — sound nice in theory but assume that people want to participate in news more than they actually do?

17. Or what if the forces that are pushing journalists to develop a personal brand online are also putting those same journalists (especially women and minorities) into more compromising situations of hostility and harassment?

18. Though people generally could stand to be better informed than they are at the moment, when is too much news, well, too much?

19. Or: When does news begin to harm more than it helps?

20. If, in the end, there’s more to celebrate than lament about the state of journalism, and if we want to preserve what we prize and appreciate about journalism, how can we more forcefully defend the press as an institution — particularly in the face of authoritarian attack — even while just as readily acknowledging its broken parts and urging their repair?

That’s a question worth considering in 2020 and beyond.

Seth C. Lewis is the Shirley Papé Chair in Emerging Media in the School of Journalism and Communication at the University of Oregon.

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