MC's Whispers

Whispering Silences

Archive for the tag “information”

Journalism Under Fire

https://static.kent.ac.uk/nexus/ems/116.jpgJournalism is printing what someone else does not want printed; everything else is public relations”. George Orwell’s quote, today more than ever, remains relevant, at a time when media and control over them has become a highly controversial issue, mainly due to the ethics involved. Because, while journalism should, ideally, be objective and free of political affiliations, nowadays, the newsroom is dominated by the ominous shadow of advertising revenue. In a period when almost everything has been affected by the financial crisis, media – the people’s source of information – are searching for sources of income, while at the same time competing against social media and the plurality of free news.

How then can we distinguish the truth in what we read? And how can we dismiss ‘fake news’?

This was the topic of a very interesting discussion held in Athens in the context of the New York Times Athens Democracy Forum, hosted by the journalistic platforms Oikomedia and Hostwriter. The aim was to examine why Media have come under Suspicion and how journalism can regain public faith. Five guest speakers from international media participated: Serge Schmemann (New York Times), Philip Faigle (#D17, Zeit online), Simon Wilson (BBC Brussels), Prune Antoine (freelance journalist) and Tasos Telloglou (Skai TV/ Kathimerini).

The prevailing view, shared by many journalists and citizens alike, is that the observation of how real life unfolds is absent from many media reports today, mainly because of the rising trend of ‘opinionated journalism’. This trends sees the inclusion of a commentary, with the reporter him/herself often expressing a view on the story reported. But that is not what the role of the journalist is supposed to be, nor what the point of journalism is. It is supposed to be about the clear, undeterred, fair and objective presentation of facts that have been thoroughly researched and presented as is. Journalism is the means to make heard as many voices involved in a story as possible, and to cause, through that, the audience’s critical thought, so that citizens themselves may launch a public debate on the matter. In an era of rapid technological evolution, media outlets are perfectly positioned to become platforms promoting such active public discussion.

Instead, citizens increasingly turn against media, viewing them with suspicion and distrust and accusing them of transmitting ‘fake news’ and siding with any one political group. As such, it is not strange that, especially in Greece, citizens do not trust the media, and in fact increasingly tend to avoid the news. The 2017 annual Digital News Report by the Reuters Institute for Journalism revealed that Greeks have the lowest rate globally in trusting media with only 23% (compared to, for example, 62% recorded in Finland, the highest rate). Greece is also the only country in the world that believes social media do a better job in separating fact from fiction than traditional news media (28% vs 19%). In addition, over half the respondents (57%) in Greece and Turkey are avoiding the news, compared with fewer than one in ten in Japan (6%). One of the main reasons for this ‘media avoidance’ may very well be all the ‘negative’ news constantly broadcast, regarding the economy, politics, corruption, accidents, war, bloody conflicts and terrorism attacks around the world. News that not only contribute to increasing fear and agony for a future that is already blurred, but also result in further dampening an already low morale and bad psychological state. Consequently, people prefer not to know, endorsing that ‘ignorance is bliss’.

But in all this, how much are the journalists themselves to blame? Are they not asking the right questions? Are they presenting news out of context, indeed causing misinformation? Is the need for higher revenue placing at risk not only the independence of the organism but also its credibility as a source of objective and truthful facts? Press freedom is not only about the pluralism of views, but also about their presentation as facts, without editorialisation.

Journalism should be about opening questions not answering them. The journalist’s view has no place in the story they are reporting.

Today’s need to ‘sell more copies’ and ‘record more online views’ has irreparably also affected the quality of journalism. We need to go back to basics, to remember that in order for a fact to be reported correctly, you need to experience and (re)search it as best as possible to make it easier for the reader to comprehend. And most of all, to realise that people want to read about things that concern their lives and that affect them.

There will always be a need for stories. This was broadly acknowledged at the discussion. The main issue, however, is that journalists should never stop striving for their fundamental element: objectivity. And to step away from the uniformity and unanimity that so often characterises news stories today. After all, the mind opens up when it tries to do, see and think something differently. Otherwise, it is not even worth it.

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Rumors and hearsay

http://www.gannett-cdn.com/-mm-/141517f253ab9e1241ebf6f00e11909b0df2beac/c=194-0-1726-1152&r=x404&c=534x401/local/-/media/2016/05/02/USATODAY/USATODAY/635977841744798894-3535.jpgRick had fulfilled his childhood dream of becoming an astronaut since he joined the Space Agency’s training programme from a young age as one of the most promising members who had ever passed through. Now, being one of the most prominent young astronauts, demonstrating potential, skills and responsibility that were rare for his generation, he eagerly awaited his first grand mission.

It was not long before he was assigned it.

Once astronomers discovered a planet 40 million light-years away that could possibly have sustained (or is still home to) life forms similar to those of Earth, Rick knew this was his mission. He had dedicated his life to this and was ready for the launch.

Space orbiting offered a solitude like no other. It was a confinement that, despite the responsibilities and work that had to be carried out, provided ample time to think, to literally gaze at the Earth from a distance and revise his perspective on everything.

But once Rick was in space he knew that his mission and the next – uncertain – years of his life would be spent chasing a reported discovery, which could not be proven unless someone reached its core.

Back on Earth, conspiracy theorists and alien fanatics relied on rumors and hearsay to strengthen their arguments.

So did pretty much everyone who was too lazy or naïve to search for a holistic approach to everyday developments. As a result, people remained restrained in their perceptions of what they heard, accepting news without questioning anything and allowing themselves to be manipulated by anyone who was a bit more devious and cunning than the masses.

And all the while, the spaceman was skidding through the solar system in search of a rumor of a planet that may very well have already vanished…

 

Also part of Daily Prompt: Solitude

Forced smiles, fake laughs

http://www.veneto-explorer.com/images/350xNxeyeswildresized.jpg.pagespeed.ic.KnvlBU8W0z.jpgDo you remember what the last thing you read today was? Or what you were most recently discussing? Do you even recall what the last song you were listening to was?

We are constantly bombarded with so much information, we don’t have time to process it all. We pass our days skimming through texts and articles and by the end, we’ve already forgotten what we were reading about.

The same goes for the discussions we have. We often nod, as if we are paying attention to what our interlocutor is going on about, or as if we even remember what we were even talking about to begin with. Our topics of conversation become superficial and insubstantial. They are interesting enough to keep our attention for a few seconds, and then that distraction kicks in again.

We lose interest too soon. Isn’t that a sign of a society in disintegration? Of a life that becomes so superfluous that it keeps requiring things to keep its adrenaline high?

Do you even remember the last time you really enjoyed something? The last time you literally laughed with your heart? When you got lost in the moment you were living, forgetting about everything else?

We live at a time when we are surrounded by forced smiles and fake laughs. We have become so accustomed of hitting the “like” button online, that this has become a measure of our popularity, as if this is the only thing that matters for our existence.

We live our lives behind a mask, or maybe behind an abundance of them. To the extent that we sometimes don’t remember what it was like to be without one. What it is like to be genuine, carefree, and real.

It’s easy to put on a mask. Taking it off is the hard part.

10 ways texting can make you smarter

TextingTalking is defined as the action of communicating or exchanging ideas, information etc., by speaking, or by uttering sounds of some sort. In the modern digital world, talking is equivalent to texting. We spend so much time in front of a screen that our way of communicating has evolved to be through instant messages, emails, or simply put, texts of any kind.

In whatever way it may come about, talking is essential. Because it is always better to share something with others rather than keep it locked up inside of you. Particularly when something good comes along, not having anyone to tell and join in the excitement, sort of sucks out half the joy.

So here is a short list of why talking (in any form, and preferably with others) can make you smarter:

  1. In the quest to share ideas and find conversation starters or goers, you will eventually be incited to read more, thus learn more and expand your intellectual capacity. You will discover worlds out there you never knew existed and will be amazed by how isolated we used to be. You may even be shocked at how things we still take for granted are daringly fought for by others.
  2. If you can’t express what it is you think or desire, then perhaps you are not clear about it either. Albert Einstein had said that “you do not really understand something unless you can explain it to your grandmother.” Just remember you can’t (or rather, shouldn’t) comment on things you don’t know about.
  3. There is no other way of getting your point of view across (well, no other peaceful way) other than clearly stating your position. Don’t expect others to guess what you want unless you state it. The struggle to develop a coherent and solid argument will open the door to interesting information for you too.
  4. You will learn to appreciate the views of others. It’s always easier to criticize than comprehend. Every interaction should celebrate the diversity of views among us. Voltaire vowed to “defend to the death your right to speak”, even if he did disapprove of what you say. Freedom of speech and opinion is a fundamental right we so often take for granted and are so willing to boldly proclaim whenever it is violated.
  5. Twitter’s limitation of 140 characters has made every word count, forcing us to squeeze our minds into making those few words mean the most they can, and constraining us to say everything we need to in the fewest amount of words possible. Consequently, it has made us appreciate all the more the power of words. And spelling. And perhaps enticed us to flick through a dictionary. Or thesaurus.
  6. Talking to others makes you look at the other side of the coin. We all view life through our own one-sided perspective. But what about asking someone in a different situation how they view things? It will give you a different lens through which to view the facts and will open your mind to new thoughts and ideas. It may even bring you a step closer to understanding this world we live in.
  7. Through conversations you can learn how to do a lot – about how to turn a pessimistic person around to having a glimpse of optimism for things in their lives. How to become witty in order to respond to petty comments. Perhaps you will find like-minded people out there, or someone who challenges you intellectually and stimulates a dialogue from which you may all gain. It may lead to arguments you didn’t know you had until someone made you think of them.
  8. Talking may lead to the next great discovery. The innovation we’ve been all waiting for. Exchange ideas, develop them, compliment them through conversations. You’d be surprised at the outcome.
  9. The more you talk, the more you learn. And it is not just about the gossip. The more information and points of view you hear, the more you will be able to distinguish between the truth and the lies; between propaganda and realism. And the more you will be able to develop your own informed opinion about the state of things.
  10. Ultimately, talking and being able to express your thoughts makes you more attractive. It shows you are not a feeble by-stander in this exciting world. You take part and have a view. And there is nothing as powerful as a mind in action.

Speaking Truth to ‘Stupid’: Reestablishing Dignity in Journalism

AB15521Journalism was once described as the Fourth Estate: a watchdog of the elites, informing and protecting the masses. People looked to it for the truth. Today, information is propelled from every direction, medium, and person. Does the power of the Fourth Estate still exist, and if not, how do we reclaim it?

More people today choose to avoid the news at all costs. Especially political news, since all they appear to do is replicate the status quo, with politicians lining up to give their own position on developments (if any), while not even staying long enough to listen to opposing positions. It almost feels like we live in a world that doesn’t want to be changed. But, it is the civil responsibility of journalists to change this by presenting hard-core facts, inspire debate and fuel a desire for improvement.

With The Newsroom Season 3 having just begun, and Kill the Messenger recently hitting the big screens, journalism seems to have returned to centre stage, not that it ever left. But right now, it seems this profession has become all the more important, especially since journalists are sacrificing their lives in order to reveal information that is critical for public safety.

The aforementioned film is based on the true story of journalist Gary Webb and takes place in the mid-1990s, when Webb uncovered the role of the CIA in arming Contra rebels in Nicaragua and importing cocaine into California. Despite enormous pressure, Webb chose to pursue the story and went public with his evidence. As a result, he became the target of a vicious smear campaign fueled by the CIA and was forced to defend his integrity, his family, and his life, even reaching the point of suicide.

Consider the recent example of Serena Shim, an American journalist of Lebanese origin who disclosed that ISIS jihadists were being smuggled into Turkey and back into Syria in the back of humanitarian aid vehicles. Just days later, she was reportedly killed in a car crash with a heavy-duty vehicle. The second car was never found, raising suspicions as to the true cause of her death. Shim is not alone. Journalists around the world are regularly threatened against publishing information that is their disposal. In 2013, approximately 100 journalists were killed, while so far 64 journalists have lost their lives this year, fighting for what they believe in.

But journalism no longer seems to really be what it used to. Journalists are often characterised as “the Fourth Estate”, a term originally used by Edmund Burke, who in 1787 said that the Reporters’ Gallery in the British House of Commons was where a Fourth Estate, which was more important than the other three, took its seat. Since then, a lot has changed in journalism. Although there are some who criticise the government, many argue that journalism has become part of the ruling estate rather than an objective observer of it.

Journalism became a vulnerable profession with the rise of digital media. However, the economic crisis struck a large blow causing salaries and media revenue to decrease. Churnalism has taken the place of investigative journalism and reporters of all stripes simply find it easier to replicate press releases, instead of researching, analysing and criticising power to provide citizens with informed explanations of current affairs. There is also “citizen journalism” which has blurred the definition of who is a journalist. Furthermore, claims blast from every direction, often without any credible evidence to support them. Yet, this is what sells and what is seemingly desired by the public. This is an age where global terrorism is real and no longer an imminent threat; where people are more interested in exchanging narcissistic selfies rather than improving social welfare; and where everyone complains but few take action. Now, more than ever, is the time for journalism to reclaim its lost vigour, grace and glamour.

People want to read the news. They no longer accept bad journalism, as they want to learn what is going on quickly, simply and clearly; to be informed, not mocked. As MacKenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer) told Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) on the first episode of The Newsroom: We need to reclaim the fourth estate; to rebrand journalism as an honourable profession; to produce news that informs and stimulates debates characterised by civility and respect; and return to what is important. It needs to end ‘bitchiness, gossip and voyeurism.’ We need “to speak the truth to stupid,” because we need to actually believe that the audience is not stupid. In reality, it is composed of intelligent people who we should address as such. If we treat people as if they were stupid, that is who they will be, but, if we refer to them as intelligent people who have a say in bringing about change, then that is who they will become. Journalism is not simply about conveying news and arousing the wrath of the masses. It is about communicating information and enabling the audience to develop a clear awareness about what is happening in the world and how things might change, for the better, and for the benefit of all of us.

 

First published on Cafébabel.com and translated into French and Italian.

The world in a box

Opened empty heart shaped box isolated on white.When Matteo gave Chiara the little red heart-shaped box he wasn’t expected the shrill of delight that came out of her. He was always amazed at how much noise could come out of such a small person. But seeing a three-year old sparkle with joy and jump and down with excitement, was enough to wipe every worry from his mind. She was simply adorable. And that little box would change her life forever.

Chiara was a curious child to begin with. She loved learning and accumulated knowledge like a sponge. When she was three, Matteo thought she was ready to delve into a new world. That of languages. And he was right. Chiara loved it. She found learning a language was like playing a non-stop game. Having fun, but all the while learning. Learning things you never knew existed. About different traditions, cultures, people, who were in a country far away. But knowing how to speak their language also increased her chances of meeting them, of being able to communicate with them, of visiting their land, of entering their world. And that was the most precious of all.

From them on every five years, Matteo would give Chiara a little box. One that would hold the key to a bigger box with all the necessary material to learn a new language. Within five years, Chiara had become proficient in that gift-language and was thirsty for more. She couldn’t hide her excitement every time Matteo appeared with a box in hand. The lust for knowledge grew as her world expanded.

By the time she was twenty-five, Chiara could already speak six languages (her mother-tongue and the five gifts). She was much more open-minded, informed and knowledgeable than other people her age. For while her peers spent hours on social media and digital screens, she used her time more productively, playing language games, reading foreign media, and making friends from abroad. So when she decided to take a month off to physically visit the places whose language she had so profoundly studied, she had people ready to welcome her and show her the life of a local and not just the tourist sights.

Learning languages, prevented the clouds from shadowing Chiara’s sight. She was able to grow up with a more extensive view to the world. With friends across the globe and with a deeper understanding of how the world works that she could ever learn through a single educational system. She became wiser, simply for wanting to learn more. And for that she was richer than Matteo could ever hope she would be. Solely because he thought of a special gift, hidden in such a small box.

The Journalistic Hunger Games

460475_journalismA taxi driver on our way to my destination one day told me that “journalism is a dirty job”. He said that journalists today must be “part of the system in order to succeed – to say one thing, think another, and do another. They are disgraceful”. And I was left wondering since when this occupation – one of the most wonderful and most important there are, ended up being thought of as inferior, non-profitable and “dirty”.

A graffiti in an EU country stated that a democracy is only as good as its journalists. Yet today almost everyone agrees that journalism worldwide has deteriorated. And this is not only due to the rise of social media, blogs and the widespread use of the Internet where everyone feels that they are qualified to write (about) anything. It is also because the quality of journalism has significantly declined. When articles published are badly written, lack information, are misspelled and without any syntax, how will journalism provide a good example to the masses?

One of the basic principles of journalism is that it will offer citizens the truth no matter the circumstances, and in a clear and simple way. Without destroying values, or taking a stance for or against an issue. This is the way it should be – the simple, unadorned, and unexaggerated truth.

So many journalists sacrifice their life for this exact principle – for the citizen’s right to proper information. In 2013 at least 70 journalists were killed in the line of duty, while in only the three first months of 2014, another 15 have already been killed. A profession for which people risk their lives should undoubtedly be respected. But just as in every other case, respect is something to be earned.

The so much bad journalism that exists today negates any good examples that still remain. And when people are more interested in the lives of “celebrities”, then journalism inevitably stoops down a level, with journalists themselves now becoming part of a profession that is not thought of as highly.

Of course, the fact that journalism is among those jobs where the worker is occupied long hours without a proper schedule, no real holidays or overtime, and receives a meagre salary, does not help at all. And in addition, journalists themselves are often scorned. For example, in high-level meetings such as Eurogroup and Ecofin Councils where the elite of governments, financial organisations and other officials gather to hold discussions and conferences, journalists are the ones who spend twelve-hours a day at the press centre trying to communicate to the people in a simple and coherent way what exactly is going on. Yet, they are often faced with insufficient space in which to work, weak Internet connections, and even lack of food. They are often treated as people of an inferior class, just like many employees, or at least all those who do not have a fancy title giving access to the relevant luxury that comes with. It is as if these employees and the other officials are separated into an “upstairs” and a “downstairs” clan. Journalists have to strive to earn their living (and their food), working hours on end in adverse conditions, while officials, delegates and “VIPs” freely enjoy luxurious lunches, extravagant dinners, and even exclusive (free) guided tours.

If journalism’s real purpose is to reveal corruption scandals for example, then ideally it should be clear of such issues itself. A bad name comes out of a bad example given. But it is now time for journalism and its employees to deservedly revive the glory that they lost long ago.

A Journalist by any other name…

twitter-journalismThe other day, as I was blissfully walking across one of the city’s busiest shopping streets (no, I had not bought anything, strangely enough, and yes that does happen), I had an interesting encounter.

A young man was trying to promote a beauty salon and caught my attention with a joke. He asked me what I do. When I responded that (among others) I am a journalist, he frowned and said “well, I can understand the rest, but that, I am not so thrilled about”.

It got me thinking. Why do journalists have such a bad name? And since when? I grew up believing it was so cool to be a journalist, a reporter roaming the streets, cities and countries in search of news, and always being the first to find out exciting information.  It was an ideal job.

But now? Now, journalists are one of the most underpaid and overworked professions there are, with citizen journalists trying to steal the show, and all these social media attempting to take over traditional forms of information.

Journalists have gained a bad name. Why? Because there are so many bad ‘journalists’ out there, that it makes the rest (of us) look bad too.

Everyone suddenly thinks they can be a writer, a journalist, a reporter. Because it is easy to just sit and write whatever comes to mind. But not everyone can express this adequately. And this is something few realize. A journalist is more than a writer and a storyteller. It is a person who searches after news, who can sense what is newsworthy, worthy of reporting; who can understand what the public is concerned about, and who can express it in such a way that every citizen/reader can understand what it is s/he is saying. It is about being concise, comprehensive and to the point. It is about being able to challenge the status quo when necessary, prompt change, and above all make the reader think.

In today’s digital and socially interconnected world, real journalism has lost its meaning. Instead it has become what Frank Zappa called “rock journalism” and most of it “is people who can’t write, interviewing people who can’t talk, for people who can’t read”. And media today have become associated with this bad journalism.

Trying to stand out of the crowd in this storm isn’t easy. But they say that s/he who perseveres wins, and what is more, there is always the faith that a good journalist will never get lost. At least in a world where people still strive for perfection, quality journalism will remain a necessity always searched for…

Also part of NaBloPoMo (November 2013)

Also part of Daily Prompt: Teach Your (Bloggers) Well

What you know…or you think you do

01c-day-of-knowledge-2011There are many sayings which argue that knowledge is power. I don’t know however how strong it is, particularly in an era when what you know comes second to who you know… Nonetheless, we all have fun with seemingly useless and random information, like “If you keep a goldfish in a dark room, it will eventually turn white”. You never know when it will come in handy – well maybe not the goldfish fact, but you might need to know, for example that there are no clocks in Las Vegas gambling casinos, or that a “hairbreadth away” is 1/48 of an inch, and an inch is 2.54 centimeters. Either way, it is certainly better to know something than to be found in a situation where you need to frown, blush and pretend to be muttering something in order to avoid that awkward moment of not knowing the right response.

But sometimes what you think you know is not even close to what you actually do. A very interesting online survey concerning public knowledge of science and religion in the US has actually revealed just that. That even things you presume as given, as guaranteed knowledge, and as obvious facts, are…well, not.

There are people who don’t know that carbon dioxide causes rising temperatures, despite climate change, global warming and greenhouse gases being a major concern of the 21st century. Even in things that are considered basic knowledge, people are found lacking information, or simply appearing ignorant of these facts.

Teachers and lecturers themselves can testify on the “pearls of wisdom” found in student responses. And although some are imaginative and creative, others are simply silly.

Even in enquiring young people at random what national holiday a country is celebrating at a given day, receives replies that definitely call for a face-palm simply to avoid slapping them right then and there. To some extremes, some people don’t even know what Christmas and Easter stand for, apart from presents and chocolate eggs respectively. Gulping at amazement at the response, people who know the right answer are left wondering what exactly it is that education these days offers. And whose fault is it – the education system’s? The educators? Or the people themselves? Is it that we are so lost in the mundane and the casual that we no longer care about the important stuff? Or is it because our attention span is depleting to such an extent due to the technology peak that we can no longer truly concentrate on storing long-term valuable information?

Whichever the answer, the words of Confucius resonate soundly in an era of widespread information but little knowledge: “real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance”.

 

Also part of Daily Prompt: Pants on Fire

You know what this is…

Question markDo you? You think you know what this is. But it is no ordinary blog post. You are expecting some sort of short story, about maybe a ghost in the attic that Sally was sure existed and was terrified every time she went up there, but in the end the ghost was in the basement and she never realized it and even became friends with it, giving it a name such as Jasper – because Casper was just too mainstream. But no, that’s not what you’ll get out of this post.

You expect that you’ll read something related to current affairs. Such as the papal conclave for example, and how “conclave” means “with key” because the cardinals are locked in the room until they elect a new pontiff. Or even how the red shoes the Pope wears are the only remnants of the all-red attire that Pope Pius V decided to change for white in 1566. (See, there’s some pieces of information that you might not have heard!)

You might be expecting some useless yet entertaining facts, for example: the fact that kilts don’t actually originate in Scotland but France; it is possible to lead a cow upstairs but not downstairs; more than ten people a year are killed by vending machines; the original pack of Skittles doesn’t contain the colour blue so you don’t really “experience the rainbow”; Coca Cola translated to Chinese means “to make mouth happy”; pearls melt in vinegar. But no, that’s not what you’ll get from this post (although in essence you did just learn a whole bunch of useless information!).

So, you’re wondering right now: what is the point of this post? To be honest, I’m not quite sure myself. But now that it’s time to go back to what you were doing before you got consciously distracted from it, you feel it wasn’t really time wasted – look at all the things you learnt! Fun doesn’t necessarily arrive on purpose. Remember that! 😉

 
333 words for this week’s Trifecta Writing Challenge – to include the word time
 
TIME (noun)
1a : the measured or measurable period during which an action, process, or condition exists or continues : duration
 b : a nonspatial continuum that is measured in terms of events which succeed one another from past through present to future
 c : leisure <time for reading>
2: the point or period when something occurs : occasion
3a : an appointed, fixed, or customary moment or hour for something to happen, begin, or end <arrived ahead of time>
b : an opportune or suitable moment <decided it was time to retire> —often used in the phrase about time <about time for a change>
 

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