Engaged journalism Insight

Why I don’t make journalism predictions

An edited version of these reflections originally appeared in a roundup of journalism.co.uk’s predictions for 2022 – alongside thoughts from Blathnaid Healy, Lucy Kueng, Corrine Podger and Dmitry Shishkin.

To make predictions for the future of journalism, I’d have to have some confidence that the industry is willing and able to respond to the systemic problems facing the trade in a rational and ethical way. 25 years in the industry has done little to give me that confidence. I do, however, have some hope that individual people and organisations are doing work that’s building momentum for change – showing the wider industry that there’s a better and more effective way to tell stories.

The issue of trust is THE existential crisis facing the industry. The Reuters Institute’s Digital News Report found that just 36% of people in the UK trust most news most of the time. That means that 64% of people DON’T trust most news most of the time – essentially what we do has zero value for them.

The rational response would be to understand that as a serious failure of our journalism, our practices and our products. Instead, we blame consumers for their lack of engagement, “poor media literacy” and vulnerability to conspiracy theories. The apparent “answer” for those who wish to maintain existing power structures in the industry and society is of course… just carrying on with business as usual.

Properly engaging with the problem would mean acknowledging that journalism has routinely under-represented or mis-represented many of our people and communities. It would mean working with those people and communities to create connections, build relationships, and enable them to better tell their own stories. The only way to inspire trust is to do trustworthy things.

It would mean truly understanding that our industry does a terrible job of reflecting the diversity and richness of the people we’re here to serve and doing something to fix that rather than making it worse. That would start with working to make our industry less systemically racist, sexist, ableist, transphobic etc. etc. rather than tolerating, creating or working for platforms whose business models are BUILT on (or pander to) hate and discrimination.

These are systemic problems for the industry as a whole, but there are brilliant people and publications showing just how things might be different. In the work of independents like Greater Govanhill, Amaliah, Gal-Dem and The Ferret, we see how journalism can be done better – working with and for communities, through relationships founded on trust, but crucially producing journalism that is not just “different” but BETTER than what we’ve been used to. 

That in turn is driving transformation in the established industry. There have been great examples this year, including The Elephant’s Trail’s film, “Made in Bury” supported by The Guardian, and the “Is Work Working?” project carried out by The Mirror and ITV News (in partnership with my own employer, The Bureau of Investigative Journalism). These have shown how truly collaborative journalism, created with people with genuine lived expertise can open up new forms of storytelling that engage, inform and inspire in ways that “business as usual” simply can’t or won’t.

As I say, I never make predictions, but my fervent hope is that we’re at a turning point. The data on trust makes it clear that very soon we’ll reach the point where the status quo makes itself unsustainable and obsolete. I personally can’t wait until journalism built on trust and reflection is the only kind that’s possible.

Has this sparked ideas for you?

Do get in touch if you want to pick up on any of these thoughts.