Media companies have a significant impact on people and society. The term brainprint is used to describe the responsibility and influence of the media sector on society. Acknowledging brainprint in journalism and media content production is an important part of Alma Media’s responsible business.
Brainprint of the media
The term Brainprint was initially coined in 2005 by WWF to raise awareness of media's significant influence on society. The media sector is actually highly different from other industries because its key impacts on society are intellectual and social, not operational. Media companies have a significant influence on what people think and what choices they make.
Mirrors or Movers? report on brainprint summarises six modes in which media content affects society: questioning and challenging existing practices and structures, deliberately taking a partisan stance through campaigning, inspiring and presenting new perspectives, silencing or amplifying voices on certain topics, and normalising new forms of behaviour.
Brainprint is the impact of the media content produced through journalism. Thus, it is strongly related to responsible journalism and its four dimensions: supporting democracy, ethically transparent journalism, producing utility for the readers and defending and speaking for the local community.
Like in environmental issues, also in journalism its impacts should be considered throughout the whole lifecycle: from choosing the topic matter and finding the information to the publication of the contents and to the impacts that the contents have in society. Within the Sustainable Media programme, responsible journalism withholds four dimensions: supporting democracy, ethically transparent journalism, producing utility for the readers and defending and speaking for the local community.
The media has the most central role in implementing and promoting freedom of speech. The media's task is to exercise this freedom with the needs of readers and citizens as the starting point, in a manner that is socially meaningful and ethical. The media bears its responsibility by acting as a watchdog holding those in power accountable and by highlighting social issues. Therefore, journalism must be reliable and independent, promote freedom of speech and act in an ethically transparent manner. The Guidelines for Journalists, in which these principles are included, are the foundation of responsible journalism, and all Alma Media newspapers are committed to these guidelines.
Ethically transparent journalism
Openness, transparency and a dialogue-based relationship between reader and journalist have also become core elements of journalistic responsibility. Openness allows the reader to better understand the source of information and the ethical choices made by the editors, thereby critically assessing various media content.
Producing utility for readers
Media's task is to produce meaningful and useful information for readers to help improve their daily lives. In recognition of this, service journalism has become a key aspect of the journalistic approach at several newspapers published by Alma Media. Service journalism often involves comparisons and question-answer articles. Service journalism also enables the media to participate in building a sustainable society, as it often highlights aspects such as the ecological characteristics of products.
Producing utility for consumers is one of the many actions undertaken by the media as a response to the changing media landscape. The change has also brought along a new role for service design and multichannel solutions: in different channels, the reader needs to be provided with channel-customised solutions. In times of rapid change, the continuous skills development of the employees is ever more important.
Responsible media also acts as a representative and advocate of its community, such as a region, city or a group of people with similar interests, in broader social dialogue. This also includes supporting the vitality of the region of publication.
Alma Media develops and monitors responsible and sustainable journalism built around these four dimensions both at the newspaper level and through cooperative projects. Responsible journalism is ultimately publication-specific and thus the responsibility of the Editor-in-Chief of each newspaper, but joint editorial teams and the sharing of best practices mean that Alma Media's newspapers and other media are increasingly cooperating on Sustainable Media projects.
Alma Media's newspapers and their online services are committed to not only legislation and regulations, but also their own newspaper-specific ethical policies. These ethical policies may be stricter than the Guidelines for Journalists published by the Council for Mass Media (CMM), which form the foundation of ethical regulation in the Finnish media industry. In order to ensure independence, the newspaper-specific policies also include guidelines related to, for instance, editors' relationships to advertisers. CMM decisions, reader feedback, reader panels and requests for corrections are all metrics for reliability and responsible journalism and they are discussed at the newspaper level under the leadership of the Editor-in-Chief. Some editorial offices also have a specific ombudsman whose role is to function as a channel between the readers and the editors in the development of sound journalistic practices. The training on the ethical cornerstones of journalism is a central part of skills development of the editors.
In 2015, the Council for Mass Media issued a total of 86 decisions on matters such as corrections and surreptitious advertising. Of these decisions, 11 pertained to Alma Media’s various media. Of the decisions pertaining to Alma Media, 36 per cent were condemnatory, which was a lower percentage than the overall rate of condemnatory CMM decisions in 2015. The overall rate for condemnatory decisions by the Council increased last year and was 48 per cent.
Transparent and interactive media
The basic values of journalism and their impact on society have been a subject of public debate in recent times. This has strengthened the commitment of Alma Media's newspapers and online services to open and transparent journalism. Alma Media has provided more open communication with readers on the journalistic process and related choices and ethical principles and increased dialogue between editorial teams and readers, for example online. With the rise of social media, the reader has become a companion of media. This can be seen in many ways in Alma Media’s newspapers: the readers can follow and develop the newspaper together with the editors, for example, by commenting, on the paper’s Facebook page or through web-based reader panels.
Sustainability and media
Finnish media emphasises freedom of speech, reliability and pluralism as the cornerstones of good journalism. Instead of directly campaigning for sustainable development, responsibility and transparency in content production are perceived to be the media's key most important ways of building a sustainable society. Nevertheless, the rise of service journalism has resulted in media increasingly highlighting the perspective of sustainable development with the intention of helping readers make sustainable consumption choices.
For that reason the media has a unique relationship with sustainable development: through readers' choices and actions, journalistic content has indirect economic, social, ecological and cultural effects. Alma Media's newspapers and other media each approach environmental questions their own way. For instance, Kauppalehti approaches them from the perspective of business life, while Iltalehti's approach is more related to everyday choices made by consumers. At the international level, for instance in the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), the role of journalism in promoting sustainable development has been highlighted as a key element of corporate responsibility in the media sector. The goal is for Alma Media to be committed to sparking discussion on media’s role in a sustainable society also in the future.
Media has an impact on sustainable society also through advertising. Advertising, as well as journalism, has its own brainprint on people’s thoughts and choices. The term goodvertising illustrates advertisers positive role in ethical marketing and business practice.
Media literacy, or the ability to filter and assess information, is one of the preconditions for public dialogue. In recent years, social media has given people greater opportunities for producing their own content. Media literacy now includes the ability to filter and assess information as well as the ability to produce information and discuss it using various media. Alma Media's newspapers strive to promote Finnish media literacy and culture not only through their journalism, but also through playing an active role in schools. During the annual Newspaper Week, Alma Media's regional newspapers and some local newspapers provide some 100,000 free copies to schools along with related content and media education materials.
Improving citizens' media literacy is also included in Alma Media's Sustainable Media corporate responsibility programme. The development of media literacy is an essential part of responsible media operations, as it contributes to greater media transparency and dialogue with readers and improves citizens' understanding of media ethics. Improving media literacy also provides tools for analytical social discussion, which is a fundamental part of an effective democracy.