Innovation in 2017

Fostering better communities: from the newsroom to the public

Written by Anthony Furci

Community, better-placed empathy, and a sense of understanding between reporters and readers are the key areas Carla Zanoni and Emi Kolawole write about in their Nieman Lab Predictions for Journalism in 2017. In an age of big media, innovation, and – dare I say it – ‘fake news’, they’re areas which I haven’t seen very much of in the news sphere. This is partly what drew me in, as Zanoni and Kolawole have taken uncommon paths to viewing the future of journalism.

Zanoni’s opening line is telling – “Prioritizing emotional health in the newsroom will move from a nice-to-have practice to a must-have mindset.” In recent times, more than ever, we’ve come to understand the importance of mental health in wider society. In workplaces though, according to Zanoni, it still seems to carry tokenistic undertones. A greater awareness and care for one’s own health (as well as the health of colleagues) will keep reporters on their toes and keen to write – which is not just better for them, but better for their readers/viewers/listeners.

In her piece, the focus is solely on the well-being of reporters, and justifiably so – there should be a greater place for it. She claims that this will bring “a new sense of humanity into the newsroom.” If journalists are constantly wired to the news and their workplaces, it’d be easy for them to quickly lose touch – not just with reality, but with their audience.

Audiences are the focus of Kolawole’s piece. “Where empathy implies a more finite engagement, community implies one that is ongoing,” she writes. Reporters shouldn’t just empathise with their audiences for the sake of empathy – reporters should empathise with the goal of building a community around their publication/outlet/station.

This will help to foster a greater sense of trust with those audiences, as well as the general public, she claims. (Ideally.)

I do feel that journalists really should try to better understand their audiences –  not just through a quick email survey like the ones corporations tend to utilise – but I’m also wary of publications solely focusing on fostering one community. If that’s their goal – if they’re only trying to target one audience – then that’s great! But I feel this should be reserved for specialised outlets, not the likes of The Age, Channel Nine, and so on. It can potentially bring about a sense of closed-mindedness.

It’s a tough dilemma. We should be trying to foster a community with our readers, but at the same time, we shouldn’t close ourselves off to people outside the readership. Ultimately though, with both predictions, it all seems to come down to humanity. Being more mindful of one’s mental health and attempting to build communities are both positive notions, which reinforce the humanity of reporters and audiences alike.

This is how the fourth wall to the fourth estate can be broken; by understanding that we’re not just ‘journalist’ and ‘member of the public’, but that we are, first and foremost, human.

Image via the ‘Nieman Lab – Predictions for Journalism in 2017’ website.

About the author

Anthony Furci