Journalism should be quality, not quantity

As citizens in the Information Age, where we are bombarded every day with vast amounts of knowledge and news, quality is fast becoming much more important than quantity. Today, former Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull announced he was leaving politics, and Google News was showing 256 articles about it within 8 hours. And that’s just for a relatively inconsequential (in world terms) resignation of a Australian politician. On the same day, when a mining explosion in the US killed 25 workers, there were over 2,300 news reports in the same 8 hours. The quantity is there, but I wonder about the quality – the vast majority of those news reports are essentially the same article, rehashed and published for a different organisation. Quality journalism requires two key elements – originality and accountability. Originality is obvious – it’s not quality journalism if you just reworded a few lines of someone else’s story. Accountability, though, is what really makes good journalism. Good journalists will admit when they get things wrong – no matter how minor or trivial it may seem. But how often does that happen? If a journalist reports something that’s inaccurate – or just plain wrong – how often do you see it followed up and corrected? I hardly ever see corrections in newspapers or even online.

Last week I was listening to NPR’s excellent On The Media podcast which had a fascinating interview with Wadah Khanfar, Director General of Al Jazeera, and he had obviously noticed the same thing:

“This is why we are the only TV station that I know of that opens air for audience to phone in and to criticise and to correct our coverage.”- Wadah Khanfar

I may be showing my age a bit but I can remember when the ABC had Backchat, and then later renamed it Feedback and then cancelled it altogether. The ABC now lets you know when it gets things wrong by announcing them on it’s Corrections & Clarifications page, tucked away in a tiny corner of their website. So the ABC no longer broadcasts audience complaints, and it hides it’s own mistakes. That’s the opposite of how news organisations should behave, in my opinion. News, without accountability, is just gossip. Everyone makes mistakes – to pretend otherwise is arrogant and demeaning to the audience. But accurate information is so crucial to a well-functioning democracy that when mistakes are made they should be clearly and loudly announced. Preferably by the organisation at fault, but if not then it’s up to other news organisations and ordinary people themselves to correct them.

How often do you see a media organisation correct its mistakes? Or more to the point, how often do you see media organisations making mistakes?

(In this article “ABC” refers to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, not the American broadcaster)

2 responses to “Journalism should be quality, not quantity”

  1. David says :

    This is such an important topic. A whole school term should be devoted to it as it links to so many fundamental knowledge management points. Media reporting should be taken with a grain of salt. It doesn’t need to be 100% accurate. There’s little recourse if it isn’t.I’m a big fan of media watch. The last episode:http://www.abc.net.au/mediawatch/transcripts/s2864273.htmShowed how quality journalism is doomed as the world of online news gets starved of funding and the cross subsidisation of print circulations lose readership. Ouch!

  2. Ed Brown says :

    Well said Dave, I completely agree. Although I will say some media organisations try much harder than others to be as close as possible to 100% accurate – again the challenge for consumers is to sort the good journalism from the bad. Quality over quantity. I like the idea that schools should be teaching media and journalism (I’d go further than just a term, though, as there’s such a breadth of important concepts that should be looked at).Media Watch has been brilliant the past few weeks, and so has Jonathon Holmes’ writings on The Drum. His article in February about How Rupert Quit Worrying and Learned to Love the iPad was a great read.

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