Written by Okky Mawardi
Dr Aljosha Karim Schapals is a Lecturer in Journalism and Political Communication in the School of Communication of Queensland University of Technology (QUT) in Brisbane, Australia. He is also a Research Associate in the Digital Media Research Centre (DMRC), where he is working on the three-year ARC Discovery Project “Journalism beyond the crisis”.
He is the lead editor of “Digitizing Democracy”, a major edited collection in the field of political communication, published by Routledge this year. He has presented his journalistic insights during multiple international conferences; the latest being his presentation at the prestigious ‘Association of Internet Researchers’ Conference (#AoIR2019) held in Brisbane. Additionally, he has experience as a practising journalist working for the Financial Times as well as the German government organisation Federal Agency for Civic Education.
In this interview, Dr Schapals talks about journalism in the digital age, his advice for emerging journalists, and more. This interview was conducted in reference to his paper: Fake News – Australian and British journalists’ role perceptions in an era of “alternative facts”
1. With regards to journalistic practices that “continue to adapt to a digital environment” – there have been discussions that online content is more about chasing viral content for clicks. What are your comments on this?
This is true to a certain extent: in our three-year ARC project, for example, we have found journalists to be increasingly aware of the value of metrics in the newsroom. Their perceptions of metrics are probably best characterised by a prevailing sense of ambiguity across the board: some appreciated the insights these metrics were generating, helping them to ‘strategically exploit’ these insights, if you like. Others, however, were more concerned, worrying that ‘chasing metrics’ could lead to situations where you’re merely giving audiences what they ‘want’ rather than informing them about important issues pertinent to their daily lives. Generally speaking, these days, journalists can even track on live dashboards how their stories are performing literally seconds after publishing them – and even change e.g. headlines in real-time to ‘boost’ story performance. So, there’s definitely a push towards ‘gaming’ such insights in a way that is beneficial to the journalist and/or their respective organisation.
2. There is pressure on journalists to get ‘scoops’ and stories out as quickly as possible. However, moving fast also means that journalists are more prone to making mistakes, or worse, engage in careless reporting. Do you agree, based on your observations?
Of course, wanting to land a ‘scoop’, or being first with a particular story, is nothing new. Nothing has changed about this. What has changed is the acceleration of the news cycle, particularly since the incorporation of social media into the daily news flow. The popularity of the live blog as today’s default news format for breaking news is testament to that, providing rolling and ‘up-to-date’ coverage of an ongoing event, literally as it happens. Of course it’s somewhat inevitable that mistakes do occur in such an extremely fast-paced environment, but part of the appeal of live blogs is their transparency: for example, any mistakes and amendments made are highlighted and clearly signposted. It’s almost like readers are ‘invited’ to get an insight into the newsgathering process – an important factor in light of attempts to combat low levels of trust in the media, too.
3. In your article, you refer to “potentially positive directions in journalism”, which include “the emergence both of new forms of journalistic content, as well as new providers of such content.” Can you please provide more details on that?
Sure. There’s so much talk going on about the ‘crisis’ of journalism, specifically in relation to concerns about how to monetize journalism in the digital age. We’ve seen a drop in newspaper circulations, a shift to employing journalists on a freelance basis – in what are often quite precarious contexts. All of those are serious and valid concerns. But our project suggests that, in light of all this, there are positive directions journalism is experiencing as well. For example, in the UK, particularly in 2017, we’ve seen a real rise of smaller, alternative media outlets that challenge the partisan and often pro-Conservative narrative of the British press, providing a real antidote to this existing narrative, as well as acting as a sounding board for people who can better identify with the political left. Of course, whether such emerging outlets are sustainable in the long run is hard to predict – some show surprising longevity, others disappear after a short while. I’m happy that I see more and more research on alternative media, and am currently involved in an international project with researchers from Cardiff University looking into this further. We will have to watch this space, but it’s an interesting landscape emerging.
4. Last but not the least; is there a personal tip that you can give for emerging journalists out there?
I’d say they need to have a far more diversified or generalised set of skills. In the past, if you were an exceptional writer or researcher – great. That, of course, still applies. But in this day and age, you will have to operate on multiple, different platforms, creating short videos, have a social media presence for your own, journalistic ‘brand’, and so on. Therefore, it is paramount that journalists have a broader set of skills that specifically cater to multi-platform journalism.
For more publications by Dr Aljosha Karim Schapals, please visit QUT ePrints, the University’s research repository. Otherwise, you may find yourself in one of his teaching units: Newswriting (CJB101), Journalistic Enquiry (CJB103), or Political Communication (KCB302) – for guaranteed insights!
On behalf of the Brisbane Media Map team, we would like to thank Dr Aljosha Karim Schapals for his invaluable insights, and for making this interview possible. We wish him all the very best as he continues to inspire and nurture future journalists!