Scientists warn of major global challenges in 21street century: from future pandemics to extreme weather events, risks to food security and growing inequalities. In June, the International Science Council led a panel session on “Preparing for Crisis X” at the World News Media Congress in Taipei. Recognizing the importance of responding to skeptical audiences and building trust and credibility for both science and journalism, the panel explored the challenges and opportunities presented during the pandemic and for future crises to a global media audience.
A recent report by Courtney Radsch, director of the Center for Journalism and Liberty at the Open Markets Institute and a member of the ISC’s expert panel for its project, Public Value of Science, found that journalists in all countries felt that the pressure on the media was increasing. in a context of climatic and geopolitical tensions, and that very few were prepared to respond effectively to future crises.
Need for healthy information ecosystems
Based on interviews and a survey of independent public interest journalists and media outlets in developing countries and analysis of legal regulatory frameworks, this report and an accompanying analytical tool found that journalism and science are at risk of being hostages of the algorithms due to the “platformization” of the news. .
As a result, these disciplines are vulnerable to social media content moderation systems that reward extremism, conspiracy theories, and misinformation, underscoring the urgency of developing healthy information ecosystems.
“Instead of focusing all our energy on how to combat misinformation, mitigate harm online, and combat digital extremism, we need to focus on creating a positive vision of what we want and how to get there,” Radsch said.
“We must cultivate systems, institutions and norms that allow useful and quality information to flourish and address the interaction between the technological infrastructure in which information systems are embedded and the media,” he added.
Fragmented and polarized landscapes
Over the past decade, the political and media landscape has become increasingly fragmented and polarized, a fact underscored by the mixed reactions of governments and populations to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Joel Simon, founding director of the Protect Journalism Initiative at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism and co-author of The Infodemic: How Censorship and Lies Made the World Sicker and Less Free, described a never-before-seen systematic global crackdown on free expression that was taking place in every country around the world as the pandemic spread.
“The characteristics were different depending on the national dynamics and political leanings. There were common frameworks between the scientific and journalistic communities. Science had begun to indicate that political leaders would have to make difficult decisions for the economy and their own political destiny. We saw systematic crackdowns by authoritarian states where censorship regimes grew as the pandemic spread.
“In democratic nations, the pandemic revealed that some political leaders sought to disrupt rather than suppress, often undermining pundits and the media. These strategies proved to be overwhelming and highly effective information systems designed for analysis by dominating the network of truth-seeking journalists and experts,” Simon said.
Coherence, transparency keys to build credibility
Congress heard that cultivating trust on both the consumption and production sides of content for journalists was crucial in times of crisis.
Mia Malan, editor-in-chief of the South African news organization Bhekisisa, added that consistency and transparency between policymakers, pundits and media professionals was key to building credibility and an ongoing relationship of mutual trust that beyond the immediate crisis.
Lessons from the pandemic, which highlighted the need for journalists to find experts in the field who can provide high-level expertise, could be used when covering the issues of climate change and biodiversity loss and living within planetary boundaries. sustainable.
The importance of having the right experts
“Scientists had their own interpretations and our lesson was to empower media professionals on who could talk about what. For example, a GP talking about vaccines or an economist talking about how a virus would travel was not necessarily empowering for our audience. It is important to get the right experts. I think of the AIDS crisis where South Africa had a president who denied the science of AIDS, so that frames the debate. We overcome that with grassroots partnerships with activists, media, and scientists; we can do the same for the next crisis,” Malan said.
Mitali Mukherjee, director of Journalist Programs at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, said we need to focus on the good that has come from the pandemic.
“There was a strong sense of international collaboration and knowledge sharing between international colleagues, which brought us back to the basics of journalism. Your job is to demand accountability no matter what country you live in. Not every newsroom has a dedicated climate reporter. Journalists in the global South lack access to resources and data: Much climate research is funded by the global North, and reporters suffer from a lack of information and a lack of context. These are both climate challenges and other crises that are on the horizon,” Mukherjee said.
‘An opportunity to democratize data’
An antidote to this lack of information and context was provided by David Walmsley, editor-in-chief of Canada’s Globe and Mail. During the pandemic, the newspaper and the Royal Society of Canada entered into a partnership to provide coverage of the pandemic, leading to a future program: Let’s Talk Science. – covering a broader range of topics, from education to the impact of cutting-edge scientific discoveries.
“The partnership provided an opportunity to democratize data, and the best way to show that was by taking our time, which can be counterintuitive in the news cycle. During the pandemic we recognized the need to go back to primary sources. This also meant that scientists were learning on their own as their knowledge of the new virus increased.
“Our goal was to make everything simple for our audience. By launching the “sources” campaign, we demonstrate our trustworthiness and the depth of knowledge we cultivate to deliver a compelling storytelling. Our audience doubled during the pandemic when we worked with the Royal Society to speed up peer-reviewed work. We invite you to become participants in the convening power of our news organization. Before long we had 200 articles, word for word, with footnotes. We don’t speak to the audience. We slowed down, went when we were ready, and did it with experience. In this way, we offered the audience a journey, we were talking to them, not talking down their shoulders,” Walmsley said.
‘Relentless search for truth’
A key takeaway from the panel discussion was “Reliability instead of trust.”
“By reaffirming the optimistic lessons of the pandemic and promoting and living by the principles of investigative journalism, the relentless search for truth, you are also sharing the principles of scientific endeavor, the search for truth. The content platform takes on a world of its own, where the language being applied is “the biggest audience wins”, but is it nutritious or just empty calories? When it comes to the principle of intellectual capital, which is demonstrably reliable, social media can’t be the first place to go,” Walmsley added.
This post, written by Alison Meston, Director of Communications for the International Council for Science and first published on Council.science, is republished with permission.