Journalistic integrity and academic inquiry in a post-truth era

Following this year’s British Journalism Review Charles Wheeler Award, Hannah Settle, Assistant Editor for Humanities & Social Science Journals, SAGE Publishing, explores how academic research supports journalism.

“Integrity, authority, humanity and evidence. Are there better words in the lexicon of journalists?” so said BBC Chief International Correspondent Lyse Doucet, winner of this year’s British Journalism Review Charles Wheeler Award for Outstanding Contribution to Broadcast Journalism in her acceptance speech.  But how does academic research help support integrity, authority, humanity and evidence in the journalism industry?

In a time where the idea of “post-truth” is dominating the media, the British Journalism Review (BJR) has published several articles on the rise of “fake news”, including ‘Remember that facts are sacred’ and ‘It’s time we put him [Trump] on the spot’. At the award ceremony, Kate Adie, journalist and author, in her keynote lecture also highlighted how the rise of fake news across media platforms poses significant challenges for journalism. Social media means anyone with a Twitter account is able to report and put forward opinions as if it were news. The resulting fact being that sensational headlines are created to drive up click rates and the actual ‘news’ content is dramatized, misinterpreted, or worst case scenario, made up (read more about this in ‘Clicks versus facts’). This poses a strong threat to the reading public, it makes a mockery of the idea that the news is there to educate us of the facts and events influencing our world.

Taking this year’s news  – a year of shock elections and political upheaval – academic research has been vital not only in terms of interpreting the social and economic grounding in which these events are happening, but it has also been pivotal in helping us to gain a greater understanding of how the media is interacting with, and presenting, politics through journalism. Over the past year alone the BJR has published pertinent pieces responding to, and often predicting events in the political environment  including: how Theresa May keeps journalists, and even her own cabinet in the dark on her next political moves, how Jeremy Corbyn interacts with the media, and how Donald Trump would be nowhere without the journalists who he critiques.

In these instances, academic research exposes the practices of the media, analyzing the ways in which media and politics intersect, as well as providing insights into reporting patterns and journalistic techniques that need to be continually monitored and reviewed. It helps journalists and the wider public uncover how key information is being presented in some media outlets and platforms, whilst also providing guidance and instructions to ensure that integrity of both the news and the field of journalism is maintained.

A this year alone would highlight, in this current age of post-truth, in order to maintain the journalistic standard that Sir Charles Wheeler set out – one  of “integrity, authority, humanity and evidence” – academic research is vital.

Each year the BJR, alongside the University of Westminster, presents the Charles Wheeler Award for Outstanding Contribution to Broadcast Journalism in honour of one of the BBC’s most celebrated correspondents, the late Sir Charles Wheeler.

From left to right: Kate Adie, Lyse Doucet and Steve Barnett (BJR Board Member)

Find out more about the British Journalism Review

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