The bravado has not died off, not by a bit. In messaging groups proliferated by Sri Lankan journalists and those connected to the media, there is no lack of digital macho-men and women. Macho is something that I have gotten used to working in at least one Sri Lankan newsroom during my formative years. For a while macho was what I wanted to be – the hard-knuckled journalist with an ego to boot.
It took me years and a personal tragedy to recalibrate this image. I am glad that I did, even at that late stage.
When I am confronted by the digital bravado, it is not hard to for me to recognise the false sense of bullet-proof persona that many in my tribe want to assume. The small talk on cats and cat videos, when a prison is burning and COVID-19 is showing no sign of relenting, is yet another form of self-deception. This false reality also creates a situation where the media intentionally or otherwise does not adapt fast enough to the changing times.
In Sri Lanka we have a situation where gossip sites that game the social media trends brilliantly by way of producing click-bait having taken over the news arch. Pseudo journalists are then left with the attitude that the best news reporting is when a cricket turns barber. Because the post will rake in engagements, the impression is that it is what is valid.
"There is also the danger posed by those interested in keeping a tight grip on the news arch using the pandemic and the need for data to control it, to game the system even more to suit those needs"
Journalism world over is facing a scenario of what-next, what would the new normal look like? There has never been so much fear and interest on fake news. Most of the research, including my own, has shown early signs that journalists as well as their audiences are keenly aware of the power fake-news carries.
As much as the fear of being overwhelmed by wave after wave of fakes, there has never been this much interest on authentic information. Because the authenticity of the information we consume right now is a matter of life and death, across the world, irrelevant of where you live or how you live.
Journalism needs to understand this and adapt accordingly.
There is also the danger posed by those interested in keeping a tight grip on the news arch using the pandemic and the need for data to control it, to game the system even more to suit those needs.
There has been an explosion on the level and interest in using apps, mobile data and drone tech to gain a handle on the pandemic. These however should be accompanied by details on data retention and privacy regulations.
A much more circumspect media community attuned to the changes that are taking place around it would be aware of this, not blissfully ignorant.
"The core of journalism values is making sure that our audience is kept informed. With the advent of social media and the loss of legacy media’s role as the sole gatekeeper of the what the community hears and sees this has become a lot harder"
The core of journalism values is making sure that our audience is kept informed. With the advent of social media and the loss of legacy media’s role as the sole gatekeeper of the what the community hears and sees this has become a lot harder. Audience retention is now harder than ever.
But when journalists decide that gaining and retaining all the clicks in the world is what is paramount then news value suffers. The quirky and the funny – like the cricketer turned barber should be part of the news cycle. But not at the expenses of hard-nosed reporting.
Where we are heading in a few years’ time, we would have nothing but the slapstick left in the Sri Lanka news cycle because we could not be smart enough to package the news in a way and format that would appeal to an audience with the freedom to choose from a million news sources.
Freedom of choice does not mean that quality journalism should suffer.
The writer is a Post-grad Researcher at CQUniversity, Melbourne focusing on online journalism and trauma
Twitter - @amanthap