The challenge for media: viewing the world as one place

Swedish researchers Peter Berglez and Ulrika Olausson are both using Twitter in a professional capacity but they view social media primarily as a wake-up call for a news industry in crisis. The Örebro researchers believe that newspapers, TV and radio must develop and do what social media cannot – view the world as one place and through analysis and in-depth coverage put events into their proper contexts.

– For us, Twitter is a good tool for reaching out to politicians, students, alumni and other groups that are otherwise hard to reach. On Twitter, people can also respond to what we are writing, says Ulrika Olausson, who like Peter Berglez is a researcher in media and communication studies at Örebro University.

Social media enables information dissemination as well as dialogue, and the combination thereof spurs their rapid growth. There are high hopes as to what they might be conducive to – perhaps particularly following the Arab Spring.

But what does it mean for those who have previously dominated this arena? Social media are now often the first to communicate news events and they can supply both photographs and films. Traditional journalists, who do not want to be too far behind responding to an event, are fighting to keep up.

– It’s futile. Instead, traditional media should focus on being creative and developing, says Peter Berglez.

Global technology

The research of Peter Berglez and Ulrika Olausson describe the need for a global journalism – a journalism that would see the whole picture rather than wrenching events out of their contexts. Newspapers, TV and radio have the scope and the competence to explain reasons for and effects of for instance climate change, the financial crisis or epidemics. There is much to be gained from viewing the world as one place, the researchers claim.

– The technology behind social media is global but that does not imply that the content is. Also cross-border media channels such as CNN, BBC World News, Fox News and Al Jazeera use global technology, but the content is uniform in character – in most cases a Western perspective is applied, says Ulrika Olausson.

– Social media are in that context regarded as being more democratic because anyone can contribute. But when you take a closer look you will see that there is a clear hierarchy here as well. Celebrities, politicians and the cultural elite have many followers. The old power structures bore into new technology, says Peter Berglez.

An approach

Being global in one’s journalism is therefore not about global outreach. There is no need for a specific TV channel or newspaper to facilitate global journalism. It is an approach and a journalism that mirrors the globalised world that we live in.

– Local newspapers can place their local news into a larger context and then it is global journalism. Naturally, there are news items that do not need that perspective, but all too often, newsrooms choose to isolate the news item when in fact the reader would have benefited from being served the bigger picture, says Ulrika Olausson.

One example of how essential it is to see the whole picture is the climate issue, which is very much a cross-border issue without a geographical centre as such. Individual nations cannot solve the problems on their own, instead they need to cooperate. Therefore climate communication must also reflect this.

– It is difficult to report on changes that occur over a long period of time and therefore are more or less invisible – they do not happen overnight. It is much easier to focus on polar bears, floods or droughts. Consequently, small parts of a bigger problem are reported because the problem as a whole is too abstract, says Peter Berglez.

Black-and-white thinking

– We have emphasised before how important it is to provide a wide-lens perspective of climate research rather than for instance focusing on whether the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) represents the truth or delivers pure humbug. The black-and-white thinking must make way for more mature explanations, says Ulrika Olausson and continues:

– There are good examples of global journalism. Journalism that demonstrates how economic, political, social and environmental events in different parts of the world affect each other.

– One good example is the programme Korrespondenterna, ‘the correspondents’, produced by the Swedish public service television company, SVT, offering in-depth feature stories from around the world. But this type of journalism should not just be given free scope on one series of news specials – it should be worked into everyday journalism. Social media can contribute to the news flow but it is the resource-heavy, in‑depth and analysing journalism that we hope to see more of in traditional media, says Peter Berglez.

Follow Örebro University’s media researchers on Twitter: @MediaOru

Peter Berglez: @PeterBerglez

Text: Linda Harradine
Foto: Anders Liljenbring
Översättning: Charlotta Hambre-Knight