Journalism has survived many things, such as political influence as well as embedded journalism ... But this hasn’t changed the status quo much, as some media houses seek to always want to control the agenda while others are trying to remain independent and deliver content without fear of favouritism. All this means is that journos and media houses have to acknowledge the current crises, extinguish them and find solutions in order to carry on with delivering the news. 

The ultimate question is this: Does journalism have a future? Yes, because journalists are the most reliable midwives to history society has! 

media update’s Nakedi Phala spoke to renowned writer and editor Lerato Tshabala about authentic journalism, the rise of fake news and the 4IR.

Does authentic journalism still exist? Why?

What a loaded, relevant and triggering question this is!

*as I wipe a sweat bead before answering*

The simple and complicated answer is: yes! The problem is finding it. With media outlets now being privately owned by business people with their own agendas, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find authentic journalism. 

The transparency mandate for journalists has been severely compromised by political affiliations, business deals and government interference. From sport to investigative journalism, only the chosen few (who invariably tow the line in order to stay employed) seem to last at most media houses.

I recently interviewed Piet Rampedi on my RLVNT podcast (he’s the award-winning journalist who broke the PPE scandal this year) and he, along with many others including myself, is one of the journalists who were pushed or forced to leave mainstream media because they ‘shook the wrong tree’.

Even some sport journalists get incentivised (with trips and ‘under the table’ cash) for writing favourably about certain organisations and athletes. And all you have to do to understand why journalism is in crisis is simply to follow the money.
Power and money very rarely go with transparency.
Journalists have always been mandated to tell inconvenient truths, but they also need to have livelihoods. So, some of my colleagues have chosen to rather put their hands in the pockets and whistle to the ceiling when it comes to telling the truth. Because, let’s face it, authentic journalism is not only risky but rather costly.  

How can media houses deal with the rise of fake news?

The biggest issue that we have around the news is that even the media houses themselves are complicit in perpetuating fake news. Just look at how Donald Trump used Fox News to drive the narrative of his self-declared greatness. In South Africa, as advertising budgets get cut to eye-watering levels, experienced journalists have become a ‘nice to have’.

This has resulted in newsrooms getting younger because junior resources cost less and oppose the system less. This intersection of the young and inexperienced with the older journos, who are there for the  paycheque and not necessarily for the ethics, has caused an immeasurable trust deficit between journalists and the general public. 

We need to go back to basics, apply the rules of journalism (around getting multiple and credible sources, fact-checking and using the constitution of the country to guide responsible reporting and storytelling). More crucially, we need to redefine journalism, as well as what it stands for in the digital age. If not private business, then who can credibly own a media house and protect its journalistic integrity?

Like Sway, I don’t have the answers. It is not my intention to present such a bleak image of the media industry but we cannot fix something that we haven’t diagnosed. At the end of the day, a good story is a good story that hasn’t changed.

 How has the emergence of the fourth industrial revolution impacted the life of a reporter?

Let’s start with the hardest of pills to swallow, shall we? The breaking news horse has bolted for journalists: We can’t compete with Twitter!

By the time a reporter has finished gathering all the elements for the story, someone has sent a Tweet and broken the story using a trackable hashtag so the Twitter FBI can add more evidence. From screenshots to forwarded voice notes, anyone can break news these days. 

Reporters are now being forced to think of the longevity of news. What else can you share about the story that people can’t find on social media? We still need reporters, editors and feature writers.

There’s a reason why journalism and prostitution are the oldest professions — they both serve a demand and a need. But the world is changing and journalism has to change — and fast. Failing to refocus the profession will be detrimental to our local and global society.

What advice do you have for an upcoming journalist? [Video]

Fake news is one of the things misleading social perceptions. What can be done to deal with this issue? Let us know in the comments section below. 

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When it comes to a career in media, there's something out there for everyone who's interested. Learn more in our Q&A titled, A glance into the media profession: A Q&A with Karabo Ntshweng.