What should journalists do in the age of post-journalism?
The two-day seminar took place at Edward Boyle Library at the University of Leeds on October 27-28, attracting academics, industry professionals and critics, as well as invited Russian journalists and university students and staff. On day one (October 27), the participants presented and discussed four papers. On the second day of the conference, three other presentations were made.
Adam Michnik: the founder and editor of Gazeta Wyborcza, as well as legendary freedom fighter who stood at the core of the Polish Solidarity Movement. Mr Michnik gave a speech titled ‘The Path of Poland: from democracy to putinization’. Mr. Michnik provided a historical context of democratization of Poland, drawing on similarities and differences of this process between Russia and Poland. He also discussed the specifics of the ‘Polish Way’ of democratisation, offering important insight into his study of the society that underwent rapid and successful modernisation, but at the same time it ignored a growing frustration of conservative, retrograde components of the Polish society. Mr. Michnik’s arguments listed several critical societal issues that Polish journalism and democratic political forces overlooked during the years of transition: (1) frustration of the less-modernised part of the Polish society, including the Roman Catholic clergy that later provided support and promotion to the ruling party Law and Justice; (2) the mistaken conclusion that the Polish ruling elite has ‘established’ democracy which lead to de-mobilisation of liberal forces and their consequent defeat (yet, in Mr. Michnik’ view – the defeat is a temporary one); and (3) the underestimation of the threat that the Law and Justice government poses to democracy. Mr. Michnik also described current and prospective political climate in Poland, drawing parallels with Putin’s regime in Russia. His conclusions and ideas for journalists and mass media institutions included the following useful and inspiring suggestions:
- Stick to core values of democracy;
- Re-engage with communities and social groups that provide a base for populist/authoritarian forces at power;
- Develop a clearer vision for the future that is inevitably coming – a future with different political forces at helm.
Prof. Nicholas J. Cull, the head of the Public Diplomacy Programme at the Annenberg School of Communications at University of Southern California, presented a paper that provides a unique analysis of the position of journalism in public diplomacy practices in the different countries after the World War Two. Prof. Cull provided the rich historical context of his research, listing types of policies that different countries/regimes employ to exert political influence abroad and correct/change perceptions. Mr. Cull’s paper has contextualized several typical ‘media development’ cases – offering journalists who attended the seminars a clearer view on the initiatives of domestic and foreign governments that target them and their work. Prof. Cull also elaborated on the changes that the digital transition of the media invoked in public diplomacy and soft power projections, including the most recent examples of election meddling, influence projection and ‘information warfare’.
Dr. Taras Fedirko, a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Cambridge, presented his paper Moral and Political Economies of Free Speech in Ukrainian Journalism. Dr. Fedirko’s paper concentrates on the issues of political influence in Ukrainian journalism, as well as the perception of political influence by Ukrainian journalists. As Dr. Fedirko argues, several forms of political influence affect journalism: from subsidies that are provided by either the state (through budget appropriations) or oligarchs (politically engaged either in person or through deputation), to blatant corruption (payola, or ‘dzhinsa’ in Russian and Ukrainian). Dr. Fedirko’s paper delivers insights on the practices of political influence, and draws on reflections various journalists have: primarily, as a judgement between ‘inadmissibility of personal malpractice’ and ‘institutional protection’ from such influence. As an anthropologist, Dr. Fedirko contextualized the findings against the known group controversies and bias mitigation, stating the need for further research and discussion over the issues of moral and political economy of journalism.
The final speech of the day was delivered by Mr. George Carey, an independent filmmaker who was a core news editor and commissioner at BBC from 1970 to 1990. Mr.Carey addressed the issue of storytelling with a presentation named Truth vs Speed: a difference between news and documentaries, providing immense professional insight into the workings of the journalistic filmmaking. News intensity and ‘momentuality’, Mr.Carey argues, distract journalists and other authors from the most important components of mass communication – the story, the narrative that is crucial to attract audience, maintain engagement and – in the end – affect people’s perceptions and behavior. Narrative creation argued Mr. Carey, is as matter of equal importance to the journalist, as news or social values or even ‘checks and balances’.
Grzegorz Piechota, a visiting researcher at the Reuters Oxford Journalism Institute, presented his paper on the evolving alternatives of journalistic enterprise across the globe. As the mass media industry suffers from economic difficulties, the declining interest of readers and viewers, media innovators continue to experiment with all forms and methods of mass communication in order to keep their media afloat. From paid digital subscriptions to ‘audience’ clubs/memberships, the mass media is wrestling with the duty to society vis-a-vis its need to acquire capital for future development. Mr. Piechota’s presentation also covered the cases from illiberal countries like Belarus and Poland, where he demonstrated how bold experiments helped to discover new sources of revenue and, therefore, journalistic independence. Mr.Piechota also covered the important issue of ‘activist journalism’, including social engineering projects he produced while working for Gazeta Wyborcza (i.e. education reform, the parent’s peer register of ‘good schools’).
Ostap Protsyuk, founder and director of the Lviv Media Forum and one of the founders of Samopomosch political party, devoted his presentation to “journalism that changes life and society”. Taking examples from the history of Ukrainian journalism and its present state of the art, Mr. Protsyuk painted a broad pattern of options that journalists need to consider when history offers society a chance at freedom. He demonstrated how Maidan activism ignited numerous journalist/activist non-profits that combined features of mass media (i.e. informing, educating and communicating with audiences) with typical actions of political action groups (civic engagement, direct action and participatory politics). Among the questions Mr. Protsyuk provided to predominantly the Russian audience, was a problem of ‘post-Putin reality’ that will require journalists to become not only editorial reporters, but actual agents of change in future.
Eric S. Johnson, the co-founder of Internews Russia, delivered an important speech, covering two pressing issues for journalists. First, he covered the issue of computer and data security , a serious consideration for every journalist, especially when conducting investigations. Mr. Johnson advised on selection of tools that journalists and publications should use to prevent oppressive governments, secret services and corporate warriors from accessing their non-published works, sources and data. As a ranked member of Internews network, Mr. Johnson evaluated computer and data security solutions in numerous countries and his informed opinion was of an extreme value to participants. Secondly, Mr. Johnson addressed an important and pressing issue for Russian journalists: whether ‘the West’ will continue to support journalism/media development in Russia. His conclusion was sober and sour: from a standpoint of sources of funding (state-level donors in EC, USA, Canada), Russia has ‘graduated’ from the media development ‘school’ – although with very bad marks. Considering the existing and growing difficulties of working in Russia, the minimal interest of donders and very aggressive posture of state-owned media in Russia, Mr. Johnson concluded that ‘The West is NOT there to help’, and the Russian press, politicians, opposition and emigration should find their very own way to live in this conditions.
In concluding remarks, Vasily Gatov and Ilya Yablokov briefly summarized the content of two-day conference and gave floor to Justice for Journalists initiative’s Maria Ordzhonikidze, who presented the new project and explained the perspectives of the new organization.