Information services: what journalism will stop doing to become closer to art

Journalism, as we know, is dying. There is still a frantic discussion around the subject by us – journalists – but to paraphrase Coldplay’s Thom Yorke, it’s more of a “the last desperate fart of a dying corpse”. But rejoice: that’s not bad at all. It will dismantle a good share of the festers the news ecosystem has now. The machine will be disconnected from the person. At last, something logical will be done, even if momentarily stressing.

What does it mean? Basically, what we will see the Pareto principle or so to be allied on the news we see every day – around weather, traffic, cinema, TV etc. The commoditized information that comes to us by nearly 10 million units every day will have the massive majority rendered by machines and automated systems. That’s what you will see going to work, and newspapers used to do: last night’s match results, weather, movie session hours, and so forth. This workload is pretty much brutalized already, with machines or very poorly paid personnel to spit massive loads of information because that is the logic of the industry. Executives are hard-wired to the cost-cutting pattern, but it is also outdated.

But make no mistake: this metamorphosis is necessary. The information industry is a wreck, the news system is dysfunctional and has been left dangerously misinformed. We are using the defibrillator on a skeleton trying to make it back to life. 

The commodity stuff will go to the machines only. Advantages: less miserable journalists, information sources can be made more accountable (the guy from the blog “BurnThemAll.com” will have a tough time setting servers to provide phoney data instead of relying to trusted, transparent ones). There is also a possible plus if the decent parts of left and right mature and agree to talk (leaving bigots, zealots and wannabe-warlords left to their microcosmos), they will realize the obvious: they agree in the fundamentals. That said, it’s easy to go out for a healthy debate rather than the current sordid backstabbing. 

Examples:  rain levels decreasing in Australia are measurable. Health care services for the vast majority of the population are getting worse. Immigration is not a country problem, but a systemic one. Financial services are earning more and more draining all the wealth surplus. Tech behemoths are raping privacy at some level (and not always by their exclusive fault). The de facto commoditization of the low-level information (that is not less valuable) will take out a great deal of friction, with fewer jobs for writers, yes, but new ones to tech-skilled workers (who can also be writers too). A lot of information can be undeniable if we manage to put the whole audience to agree that a set of specific sources cannot be put away by ego-driven celebrities.

But the real gain comes with the smaller part, the non-commoditized sphere of journalism. The current system is getting shaped for global news brands like NYT, Guardian (a little bit less) and Washington Post. They still have the workforce to keep everything running as they are because their sales department is optimized, and their investment power is resilient.

They’re the exception. All the others are being eaten alive. It is impossible to stop the ongoing destruction, but the survivors will find their audiences. There is a job to be done, and these audiences apparently will learn it the hard way, with the derangement of social and civil life that the future is bringing. Floods, fires, terror attacks, hospital and school closures, hate speech and everything else are the offspring of a society in crisis, an industry that took everything for granted and never considered the reader or viewer on an equal relationship. Before digital, readers were treated like cattle. Now, as customers (who cannot be challenged or they go elsewhere to find someone selling a reality they prefer.

Global turmoil gets far worse before it gets better, but it will match audiences and publishers again in a relationship of more respect, transparency and dialogue. Readers will demand things, sensible things and will pay for that (because they will have then learnt how catastrophic an unchecked government and society can be).

When this new environment arises, the remaining professionals crafting stories will be in far smaller numbers than they were a few years ago but will be able to make a difference, globally or locally. The government will forcibly be more transparent in the countries where the population will force them to do so. These professionals won’t be forced to write dozens of awfully futile pieces while leaving that unappealing one for tomorrow, precisely the fundamental one that they should be doing . There will be space for more literary avances too. The world is full of amazing stories and many good people to tell them. The few journalists able to do so will have back a job swallowed by the information tsunami.

One must notice that I mentioned only marginally the real fester of the system, those data-drug-dealers that are doing anything for money or for combining their vicious behaviours with a better pay lying, shaping truths and enticing followerships towards war. When the system comes back to their senses, it will be impossible to treat them anyhow but as criminals – and this is going to happen to every country that wants to be civilized. Thanks to some crucial safeguards like the first US amendment (which, despite all problems it may carry with, is a foundation of society), there will always be rabid people churning out acid and not going to jail. But if the sane part of society behaves as adults, debating, this vile minority will be left to their own hate, alone or almost, as it should be.

There is a lot here to retain my opinion pessimistic, but I disagree. Pessimistic is a specific spin of a situation that focuses on the worst possibilities available. This is not the case. The conditions suggested above are, in fact, almost cheerful when compared to the medieval, gloomy outcomes that can happen to a world without the checks made by journalism and journalists. We live in a period quite similar or even equal to those anteceding major tragedies like wars and famine. If things go south, it is implausible that we will be able to discuss anything for a very long time. “We are all in the same boat, in a stormy sea and we owe each other a terrible loyalty“.  This is what good people from left and right must have in mind.

Cassiano Gobbet

I am a journalist, interested in everything related to the equation technology + communication.