Shared rules of journalism are important

Media criticism seems to be the latest fad, says Mikko Hautakangas, researcher of media culture in Tampere University. Trust in media has not been lost, however, even if language and operators have changed.

Crisis in media is usually linked to digitalisation and major changes in the earnings models of traditional journalism. Media crisis has become a trendy expression that has been debated in the media field for years now. But Mikko Hautakangas, researcher of media culture in Tampere University, thinks that we should define what we are talking about when we talk about media crisis.

“Is it about the financial crisis resulting from the previous strong operators not finding the same cash flow any more, or is it about journalism as a social operator being in crisis? From a researcher’s point of view, these two a linked but they can be studied from difference perspectives.”

According to Hautakangas, the latter is strongly associated with the credibility and reliability of journalism and people’s changing needs. There has recently been a lot of debate about disinformation and the consumers’ wish to gain correct and up-to-date information.

“New style of language has emerged that is questioning the role of journalism. In Finland, trust in media is still rather strong, but we now have loud challengers such as alternative media that have shown their social power,” Hautakangas says.

Alternative media are media that publish information not in line with established types of media. Some of their news are incorrect and biased or completely untrue. Examples of these are MV-lehti, Magneettimedia and Verkkomedia.

Shared rules of journalism are important

The language in alternative media has set out to challenge journalism and communication that previously were considered almost sacred, says Hautakangas.

“Alternative media loudly argue that mainstream media is hiding something and seek to offer their politically charged truths instead. Indeed, the message of MV-lehti is that it tells you the truth when everyone else hides it.”

Hautakangas thinks that alternative media should be taken seriously but not be given too much importance. Strong minor groups rather mess up the debate than win over large crowds. What is important is that we still have faith in the shared rules of journalism.

“The worst thing that journalism could now do to undermine its credibility would be to start using similar language. If we know, for example, that anti-refugee articles in the style of MV-lehti attract readers, we must not succumb to similar language and clickbait headlines.”

Clickbait journalism is the new yellow journalism

Clickbait journalism has become a culturally recognised symbol of yellow press, says Hautakangas.

“Just 10 or 15 years ago we frowned on eye-catching headlines for distorting facts and highlighting wrong topics. If we now ask a person on the street about the current state of media, they will blame clickbait headlines, not yellow press.”

The heyday of clickbait journalism seems to be over, however, partly because it has been criticised so strongly, says Hautakangas. It is also possible for media to gain positive attention by mending their ways, and many have done that. Communities such as Klikinsäästäjä (Clicksaver) on Facebook have made criticism visible, and media consumers are also more critical than before.

It’s good to be critical

Media crisis is strongly linked to the public’s participation in the media environment. In his dissertation, Hautakangas discusses the interaction between the production and participants in the Big Brother format: who really has the power? Introduced in Finland in 2005, Big Brother was one of the first formats to exploit audience participation and address it. This is also linked to today’s practices, such as having a parallel discussion on Twitter or Facebook while watching a TV programme. While watching, you see the analyses by other viewers of the topic in question.

“Debate on reality television brought up the question whether people in these programmes are real and how much they have been scripted. But these same questions we should always ask about documentary films, news or current affairs programmes as well. How the topic is constructed, who’s talking, who they are speaking for.”

Traditional journalism still has a foothold in our digitalised society, says Hautakangas.

“Saying that consumers' trust has been lost is an exaggeration. People still want to gain information from journalists who know what they are doing. We have prominent journalists who are significant even in national politics. Finding out the facts and making them public is traditional journalism and still valuable.”

Text by: Pia-Marie Rauhala 

Iltalehti made it to the headlines

Finnish afternoon papers have been blamed for misleading headlines and clickbait journalism. One of them, Iltalehti decided to take the bait and started to reform its headlining last September with a readers’ jury and internal feedback. They also got help from the Klikinsäästäjä community on Facebook.

According to publishing manager Erkki Meriluoto, the headlines have improved substantially. Instead of mysteries and euphemisms, the actual gist is in the headline.

“We also get feedback without inviting it, which is great. Readers have been very happy with the new approach. But we also get feedback when there is room for improvement in the headlines – after all, we have discussed this topic publicly. Our readers want to participate in the reform,” Meriluoto says.

Is clickbait journalism then past and gone in Iltalehti?

“Whatever clickbait journalism means. Of course every journalist wishes that their article will be clicked, but our aim is not to get those clicks by misleading the reader. I believe that a strategy to create a loyal and satisfied readership is far better than trying to make a fast buck.”

Text by: Diana Törnroos

Published: 12 January 2016
Theme: brainprint
Text by: Pia-Marie Rauhala and Diana Törnroos