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Journalism will survive its crisis of credibility

By Manny Mogato Published Jul 27, 2022 5:00 am

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Are journalists still relevant in this age of vloggers and social media influencers?

In the last six years, journalists saw their credibility eroded and public trust sinking to its lowest levels as more and more people believed what they saw, read, and heard on social media.

The public began doubting information from journalists and from legacy media. Some even described the facts reported by journalists as “fake news.”

The rise of vloggers and social media influencers—and all the questions of credibility that come with it—have changed where netizens now get their news.

The last two years were made worse by the coronavirus pandemic, as journalists’ mobility and access to news sources were hampered and the government chose to communicate directly to the people or through friendly channels of information like vloggers and social media influencers.

President Rodrigo Duterte also allowed an army of keyboard warriors to discredit journalists and legacy media, calling them “biased,” “bayaran” and “dilawan,” pushing more of the public away from what used to be sources of credible and reliable information.

The incoming administration under Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. offers little encouragement, based on what journalists had seen during the election campaign period.

Reporters covering Marcos Jr., presumptive president-elect, waiting for a press conference of his spokesperson Vic Rodriguez on May 11 at the BBM HQ in Mandaluyong City.

Marcos Jr. has been very selective in dealing with the press, favoring instead journalists from “friendly” broadcast networks and denying the accreditation of perceived critical, independent journalists from the international and local media during the campaign.

His media campaign staff also excluded a number of journalists from Viber groups, making it hard for them to monitor Marcos Jr.’s movements and activities.

During political rallies, vloggers, and social media influencers were given more access than legitimate journalists—a preview of what to expect under the new government.

Read what Manny Mogato wrote about journalism in InBetween: In times of crisis, journalists do their best work

If the media and communications policy under the Duterte administration was unpleasant, it appears things will not be better under Marcos Jr., who has made it a point to avoid controversial issues like the family’s ill-gotten wealth and unsettled estate tax, which has ballooned to more than P200 billion according to a retired Supreme Court associate justice.

The media landscape would probably remain unchanged in the next six years. Journalism in the country faces tough obstacles and challenges ahead. It is in a deep crisis — primarily a crisis of credibility.

A recent survey done on where the people got news about the candidates they were supporting and voting for in the elections showed that 50% of the respondents relied on social media for information. At only 40%, television news has been overtaken as the primary source, while print is virtually dead with less than 1%.

Filipinos have stopped reading newspapers — i.e., the hard copy. They prefer to read from mobile phones, laptops, or tablet screens. Social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and TikTok are even faster than legacy media in breaking news stories.

It might be an uphill battle. But in the end, good journalism will prevail.

However, there are dangers in people getting their news only from social media. More often than not, the information lacks context, background, analysis, and interpretation — the bigger picture that only trained journalists can provide to a news story.

Social media influencers and vloggers are primarily only after the number of engagements and followers, and they do not care whether the information they are sharing is accurate and based on facts.

They would not dare correct themselves when called out and instead stand by the lies, fabrications, and misinformation on their platforms, unlike journalists who are accountable to the public and to the fact-checking system in their respective media organizations.

Sadly, much of the public now trust social media influencers and vloggers more than journalists.

Let me go back to my question: are journalists still relevant in this age of vloggers and social media influencers?

The author alongside other media practitioners in a discussion on the role of media in this age of disinformation.

Yes, journalists remain relevant and important, especially because this is the age of trolls and disinformation. They must continue to report and write based on facts. Truth-telling is the hallmark of journalism, but it is a principle shunned by many vloggers and social media influencers who are only after followers and engagements.

Information coming from journalists can be perceived as slow, but that is due to the vetting processes rigorously followed to assure the public that the information presented is accurate, fair, and balanced.

Admittedly, legacy media was late in the game and too slow to adapt to fast-evolving developments in technology. It also largely ignored falsehoods in social media when they began to appear, so when it began to fact-check, it was already difficult to change people’s minds and attitudes.

The lack of context, background, analysis, and interpretation that comes with getting news solely from social media contributes to the spread of disinformation.

But journalists must not lose hope. It might be an uphill battle. but in the end, good journalism will prevail. Journalists must keep up with the pace of technology and must innovate and be more creative in storytelling. They must learn to produce more compelling and visually interesting narratives to compete with influencers and vloggers.

Journalists must work closely with graphic artists and other content creators to produce stories based on facts that are more appealing to social media users.

In a vibrant democracy, governments cannot muzzle a free and open press. The challenges of today are just hiccups, tiny obstacles that can be overcome by journalists remaining committed to truth and integrity.

Journalists must not surrender their role as guardians of the truth to social media influencers and vloggers, many of whom distort facts and history and mislead the public for propaganda and disinformation.

Journalists must combat keyboard warriors with their own truth. Now is the best time to become a journalist. Journalists must turn these obstacles and challenges into opportunities to excel and shine brilliantly, in the interest of the public their profession serves.

The government, too, needs journalists. It cannot rely solely on vloggers and influencers to churn out information because, in the end, the public can see through propaganda, lies, and fabrications. The public will eventually go back to the more reliable legacy media for unbiased and factual information.

In a vibrant democracy, governments cannot muzzle a free and open press. Propaganda and disinformation will not always work under a democracy.

Hence, journalists will remain relevant in the digital age. There is still hope for journalism. Journalism will survive and endure. The challenges of today are just hiccups, tiny obstacles that can be overcome by journalists remaining committed to truth and integrity.