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  • Izzuddin Ramli

Too many ‘reporters’, too few journalists

Reporters report events and describe happenings, but journalists tell stories.

Back in the days when the internet was at the beginning of gaining its momentum and smart phone was a privilege and not a necessity, TV, radio and especially newspapers had been the main sources for news. Warung or coffee shop, which was once a discursive cosmopolitan space for political discussions – before Facebook and Twitter came to the fore – would be the place where people of different races and classes flock to and catch up with current events.

I remember sitting in a warung with my father. At the corner of his eyes, he was always eyeing the newspapers, wondering if he would get his hands on a copy. But more often than not, as the free copies were limited, we would end up reading in a group, especially when there was breaking news.

Back then, news and information travelled at a rather slower pace. I guess there is a good side to it – the slower the news spreads, the longer the issues could be sustained. Journalism is and has always been a noble profession. It is journalists who help to gather information and disseminate news, get people informed and facilitate discourses within the society. But in the age of internet and social media, come at least two immediate questions. How do we value journalists and news today? What differentiates journalists and common people?

Everyone can report

Newspapers, magazines and television are becoming less and less appealing to many of us whose smartphones serve not just as telephones, but as tabs that contain the dictionary, photo albums, books and even the television, among others, that we can easily fit in our pockets. With a tool this compact and powerful, information gets disseminated at breakneck speed, and is effortlessly accessible at the fingertip. This, in a way, has changed the nature of journalism.

Undeniably, the constantly changing technology in communication helps to keep us updated with news as soon as we wake up in the morning; sometimes it serves as an alarm clock, alerting smartphone users with breaking news.

This is, on the other hand, fuelled by the nature of the modern-day human who wants to be seen or recognised and to be the first to know. With the excitement of getting likes and shares, we compete to be the first who hears about the news, flooding other users’ feeds with stories whose sources may not be reliable.

This urge to be seen as the first to know creates the habit of consuming and spreading news and information, most of the time ignoring the importance of checking the sources. While it is easily accessible, the internet also provides us with many options to get our daily doses of news. Blogs and other websites are valued as if they are established as reliable sources and they mimic mainstream news portals.

The latest technological advancement provides humans with plenty of platforms that let us share our thoughts and happenings in our daily lives. This creates the opportunity for everyone to have a chance in trying out reporting. The public now knows things that used to be done discreetly as we broadcast our daily activities. We share unnecessary information such as where and what do we eat, if our cats are gaining weight, and other things that were considered private matters.

What should be considered news?

Amidst all the noise, what is it that we can consider as news, and what is not? Even personal matters may now be national issues. It came as a surprise to me when the prime minister’s wife’s friendly gesture of holding the prime minister of Pakistan’s hand while on a recent official function with Dr Mahathir Mohamad became news for several local news portals. Can a normal conversation by a minister, in a coffee shop for instance, be made news as if it is an official statement?

A few weeks ago, Education Minister Maszlee Malik broke the internet after he allegedly said that the 1MDB scandal and kleptocracy would be included as part of the history syllabus. A quick look at the video recording of him responding to MP Ahmad Maslan’s question during the parliament session, however, revealed that he had only mentioned that the issue would be included in the “history of Malaysia”.

The video also revealed that it was a prompt response and not an official statement.

In the rapid movement of information, users acquire news instantly. Media outlets are now competing with each other to publish breaking news. However, their breaking news is based on what is “trending” in social media. The journalistic article template is ready to be used, making it easy for journalists to write what they may consider as “news”. Writers are constantly churning their brains for creative headlines that catch the eyes of those who are social media savvy.

Everyone has to serve his or her stories hot, fresh from the oven. Many stories are now received third hand through social media such as twitter, Instagram and Facebook. Never mind the poor quality of the news reporting by mainstream and established news portals, there are always blogs. What matters now is publishing the news before everyone else does.

Stand out and be different

News reporting is only a small part of the whole journalism, and the role seems to have been taken by everyone; therefore, it is important for journalists to stand out, be different and make their works distinct.

Reporters report events and describe happenings, but journalists, as Ahmad Murad Merican, the scholar of journalism and communication study, says, tell stories. Journalists are not only neutral transmitters of events and ideas, but also storytellers whose objective is to inform and educate the society.

Journalists need to be accountable and responsible in news reporting. As journalists are the ones who get the first information and the ones who are authorised and given media passes, they need help from the society to understand issues better by doing more investigative works, give their opinions and analysis, and more importantly to keep the issues that they report sustained for the benefits of others.

Now, if we can reduce the number of unethical news reporting and increase the choices of what we can consider news, imagine how that would benefit the society. And imagine, if there were more journalists that could facilitate discourses, our smartphones would be more than just devices that serve to entertain and to connect.

It was journalists who played a big part in throwing out the Barisan Nasional regime in the last elections. Now, it is also journalists who are responsible in bringing the society to better places.

*This article was first published in The Malaysian Insight, December 2018.


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