The Future of Journalism and Our Democratic Society

On Wednesday, April 5, the Buchanan Institute’s Hard Pressed research team hosted a panel discussion in order to stimulate awareness about the role and fate of journalism in our modern digital age. The speakers included Aleksander Kocic, Programme Leader of Journalism and lecturer at the Edinburgh Napier University; Nicholas McGowan-Lowe, Chair of the National Union of Journalists’ Freelance Industrial Council; Robert Edwards, a freelance investigative journalist and co-founder of the investigative journalism cooperative The Ferret; Michael Gray, a reporter and journalist for the Common Space Scotland; and Polly Smythe, editor of The Student.

The panels provided a professional and personal perspective into the issues facing the industry. Echoing the work of Tim Wu in The Attention Merchants, the speakers offered insight into the impact of business models — those based on ‘clickbait’ and advertising — which dominate the industry. Effective and superior investigative journalism requires an adequate amount of time and money, and a journalist’s ability to do so has always been constrained by funding requirements. Without such adequate resources, journalists cannot fulfill their vital function of ‘afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted’, as it was put by Edwards. (He remarked that this might not be the credo held by all within the industry).

Both Edwards and Gray recognised that journalists and the media companies will have to adapt to new models of free content and digitisation of the news. Gray, reflecting on a conference he recently attended, offered an example of the innovative thought being done on this front: the potential of a citizen media voucher program, whereby people choose which media outlets to fund.

All the panelists agreed upon the necessary role of the media and the trust that must be reinvested in the media. Focusing on its purpose within democratic society, namely serving the citizen’s interest, is essential, especially when the public sphere is markedly polarised.

The question remains, albeit with more insight: where do we go from here?

For students, Smythe discussed the role of student journalism — a microcosm of the larger issue — in preparing future journalists for the industry. It may be that the practices put in place at this level of society could carry through as these students enter the job market. That being said, a more systemic and perhaps deliberative process will be necessary. All of which are being explored at the Institute.

Finally, the Institute appreciates the panelists for taking their time to participate in such a critical discussion. If you would like to get involved, then please contact the Buchanan Institute.

Visit The Ferret:

Visit Common Space Scotland: