The Future of Journalism

Journalism is going through an era of uncertainty. It is not yet clear what its business model will be, at a time when information is a central issue

By Andrés Cañizález
CARACAS, Apr 7 2020 – All over the world, journalism is going through an era of uncertainty. It is not yet clear what the business model for the news field will be, and this is happening precisely at a time when information is a central issue in every person’s life.

The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted both dimensions. Citizens in preventive confinement consume much more news regarding the wide implications of COVID-19; but this, in turn, happens under a modality not necessarily lucrative for the news business. The scenario of a post-pandemic global recession is stirring fears in the news business field among many countries.

Citizens in preventive confinement consume much more news regarding the wide implications of COVID-19; but this, in turn, happens under a modality not necessarily lucrative for the news business

The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism published its report on the future and main trends expected in this field for 2020. This was released before the global spread of the coronavirus. However, the document is very relevant as it draws important lines on the future of journalism.

In this article, for reasons of space, the most significant aspects of the executive summary – just the tip of the iceberg – are included. For those interested in further detail, I recommend reading it in full here.

The study is based on surveys administered to executives in the journalistic world and leaders of digital projects in the media. A total 233 people in 32 countries were surveyed. The countries include the United States, Australia, Kenya, South Africa, Mexico, Argentina, and Japan.

Nevertheless, most respondents live in Europe: United Kingdom, Germany, Spain, France, Austria, Poland, Finland, Norway, and Denmark. It is very important not to lose sight of this fact, as it implies the viewpoints of people living in environments with no issues regarding connectivity, Internet speed, or access to smart phones. 

Below, a closer look at some interesting aspects:

Most media executives claim they are confident about the prospects of their companies; but they are much less certain about the future of journalism. This is usually the case in surveys: When people are asked if conditions in their country will get worse, to which they usually reply affirmatively, next thing they say – conversely – they expect an improved personal situation.

Andrés Cañizález

One of the significant issues about journalism resides in local news output. There are fears of loss of credibility impacting journalists and media in general; and this may be intensified by attacks on journalism from public officials. Furthermore, it may be the case that Donald Trump is turning into a role model of this form of attack for populist leaders of any ideological persuasion in their run for power.

Closely related to the above, 85% of the respondents agreed that the media should do more to fight fake news and half-truths, that is, addressing disinformation while keeping an eye on the fact that it can be encouraged or steered straight from the hubs of political power.

The global crisis generated by the coronavirus, leaving thousands of casualties behind, with no certainty about the effectiveness of the vaccines currently under evaluation, has been a hotbed for the spread of fake news. These not only increase in contexts of political tension, but also thanks to the uncertainty prevailing at this time.

How should journalism be funded? Media owners still rely heavily on subscription fees: Half of them assure it will be the main avenue of income. About a third of respondents (35%) think that advertising and income from readers will be equally important. This is a big change in the mindset of those running the media: Only 14% venture that they will manage to operate exclusively on advertising.

Without knowing exactly the global economic impact of coronavirus, news companies must brace themselves for the direct impact of a massive recession on the pockets of their readership base, as they, faced with the dilemma of paying for news or meeting basic needs, may end up choosing the latter.

On the other hand, there is much concern among publishers and media project leaders about the growing power of digital platforms providing social media to the public (Facebook, Twitter, Google). Although this concern is widespread, there is no consensus on what kinds of response should be given to this new power that has been consolidating.

It is feared that regulations approved by the legislative or executive branches of government will end up hurting instead of helping journalism (25% to 18% of respondents), although most consider that they will not make a noticeable difference (56%).

2020 will be the year of podcasts. Over half of respondents (53%) state that initiatives in this field will be important this year. Others point to text-to-voice conversion as a way of capitalizing on the growing popularity of these formats.

We are likely to see more moves from the media this year to customize digital covers and explore other forms of automatic recommendation. Over half of respondents (52%) state that such AI-supported initiatives will be very important; but small companies fear to lag behind. This is still practically a science fiction topic for readers in Southern Hemisphere countries.

Attracting and retaining talent is a major concern for media companies, especially for IT positions. Another concern relates to the way in which companies are taking action on gender diversity. In this area, 76% believe they are taking steps in the right direction.

However, although progress is being made on gender diversity within the news media, this is not the case for other forms of diversity – geographic (55%), political (48%), and racial (33%). There is remarkably less progress regarding decisions inside of news companies and, in some cases, these issues that are just not part of their agendas.

The outlook for the future of journalism, in general, is marked by questions rather than certainty. The world as it turns in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic may further trigger some of these questions, without any likely answers in the short term.

 

How the COVID-19 Pandemic is Affecting Women’s Sexual and Reproductive Health

A dated photo of a mother and her child from West Point, a low-income neighbourhood of Monrovia, Liberia. Advocates worry that there will be numerous kinds of impact on women’s access to sexual and reproductive health facilities around the world as countries and cities are under lockdown under the COVID-19 pandemic. Credit: Travis Lupick/IPS

By Samira Sadeque
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 7 2020 – A little over half of women across the globe are able to freely make choices about their sexual and reproductive health, according to a latest report based on data from 57 countries. 

However, as much of the world has gone into lockdown because of the coronavirus pandemic, with countries implementing social distancing and restricting the free movement of people, experts are concerned that even this small gain in sexual and reproductive health may suffer negatively.

“Globally, as COVID-19 has taken hold, access to sexual and reproductive health care services, from routine services and testing for STIs to antenatal care, contraception, and abortion, has suffered significantly,” Liza Kane-Hartnett, communications officer at the International Women’s Health Coalition (IWHC), told IPS.

“Sexual and reproductive health services are always vulnerable to falling to the bottom of the priority list because decision-makers (male, white, heterosexual, older, affluent) are not the people who will suffer from lack of access,” she told IPS.

The “Ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights” report was launched by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) at the end of last week to highlight the various levels of access (or lack thereof) women have to sexual and reproductive health facilities. This includes a woman’s agency to choose her options for herself. 

UNFPA has three pillars to measure the level of autonomy women have in making their decisions regarding their sexual and reproductive health:

  • the person involved in making decisions about healthcare for the women,
  • the person making decisions on the contraception used, and
  • if the woman is able to say no to her husband/partner if she does not want to have sex. 

The data for the report includes primarily sub-Saharan African countries on its list of 57 countries. The report states that “gaps still exist in women’s autonomy, even where high levels of individual decision-making are observed in some dimensions”.

While improvements need to be made, it’s especially difficult under the current circumstances. Advocates worry that there will be numerous kinds of impact on women’s access to sexual and reproductive health facilities around the world as countries and cities are under lockdown under the coronavirus threat.

“Sexual and reproductive health services are always vulnerable to falling to the bottom of the priority list because decision-makers (male, white, heterosexual, older, affluent) are not the people who will suffer from lack of access,” Kane-Hartnett said.

A question of access

Emilie Filmer-Wilson, Human Rights Adviser at UNFPA, says there’s a “myriad of factors” that determine a woman’s ability to access these facilities: on an individual level, institutional level, and community level. 

One of the most key determinants for a woman’s decision-making ability at this time is her education level, as well as that of her partner’s, Filmer-Wilson told IPS, adding that that will now be especially impacted given many are out of school at the moment. 

Beyond education, they are also expecting to see a risk at the institutional level, she says, that helps determine one’s ability to make the decisions and whether the institutions are affordable, accessible, and of good quality. 

For accessibility, she says, they usually take into account the geographic distance. But given the current situation of social distancing as a crucial measure to contain the coronavirus pandemic, this poses a difficult challenge. 

“In this context, it’s not only geographic, it’s also [that] there are issues that will impact that distance. Distance would be one of the risks that are involved in just going to a healthcare service center,” she told IPS. “So if these at the institutional, service levels are impacted, it’s going to [be] much harder for women.”

Kane-Hartnett of IWHC has noted similar concerns.

“Misguided attempts to control COVID infection – for example, by banning partners or doulas from accompanying women in labour – have also played a role, showing how little decision-makers value and understand women’s health and needs.”

Question over data

Meanwhile, the issue of access also means there are certain communities that will be disproportionately affected. 

“Already marginalised communities suffer the most,” says Kane-Hartnett. “Poor women, black women, indigenous women, rural women, LGBTQI+ individuals, adolescent girls, people with disabilities already struggle to access comprehensive health care services and social protection systems; the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated these existing inequalities. In the United States, COVID is affecting African-American communities particularly hard.”

In order to measure this impacts, it’s crucial to have proper data. However, data collection at a time of social isolation is further limiting opportunities for researchers to collect the information and generate data on how the pandemic is affecting the stakeholders. 

“We need to have the data pre-COVID and post-COVID in order to make this kind of comparison,” Mengjia Liang, Technical Specialist (Population and Development Branch) at UNFPA, told IPS. “

“Agencies that manage those international household surveys [are] very likely to delay their household planning survey as well,” she added. 

In essence, given the current circumstances, data collection in general might be taking a backseat, even though it’s at the core what helps researchers measure these impacts of something like the pandemic on women’s access to sexual and reproductive health facilities. 

The lack of data will be yet another salt to the wound.

Green Counter-Revolution in Africa?

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