It’s in the media, therefore it’s true. Euh, wait a minute. Are you sure?

By Wendy Luyckx (www.twitter.com/wendy0777)

It was a lively and well animated debate on Wednesday evening at the Vooruit (art centre) in Ghent. The debate consisted of a group of fascinating industry people such as Ingrid Lieten (Minister of media), Leo Hellemans (Director Media @ VRT), Ernst-Jan Pfauth (Director Internet @ NRC Handelsblad), Rik De Nolf (CEO @ Roularta, VMMa), Jan Holderbeke (Program Director Panorama @ VRT), Marc Reynebeau (editor @ The Standaard) and Leo Sisti (editor @ Il Fatto Quotidiano).

“The Lesson of the Century: Media” offered interesting food for thought about what is driving today’s media. Is it the scoop? Is it correct information? Or providing insights and understanding? Maybe education?  Or just sensation? And what about investigation journalism?

Well… Never mind all that. Media are big business.

Large media groups are calling the shots in Belgium, just like in other European countries. They grew from small or medium-sized newspaper publishers into media empires that are active in both print and audiovisual media. Their leaders are business men who run their company with a firm hand on the steering wheel and an eye on profitability and market share. So far, the Belgian media consumer doesn’t seem to bother too much about the overflow of information, disinformation, infotainment and entertainment.

Time is money, and speed is increasingly ruling in media land. News is produced and distributed with the turbo on. Double-checking information sources takes too much effort, background research is done ‘quick and dirty’. It’s expensive and it’s slowing down the process. With the increasing success of social media, content is ruling even more. Unfortunately, accuracy comes second.

Investigation journalism: to die away?

Will critical or investigation journalism die away because there is no more time and money to do proper research? The answer seems to be: NO. At least not just overnight. In Belgium “TheWorldTomorrow” has emerged as an online news site that makes the difference by going against any commercial logic. Independence and correct information.  Full stop. In Italy, the Il Fatto Quotidiano newspaper is very popular because of its critical investigation journalism. Similar initiatives are happening in the United States, with ProPublica and The Huffington Post and in other countries around the world.

I think the big question is whether these media initiatives will have the power to increase their readership to competitive levels. Or would they better invest their time and money in going with the flow? Because as we know, market shares rule the world, also in the media business. Will media in general continue to play a democratic role? And how will governments deal with all this evolution? Will print media survive or will the dominance of social media dictate how news content is created and distributed in the 21st century? I can continue with more of these questions. Interesting to follow the debate, because most of the answers are not yet totally clear.

But as always time will tell.

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