Time to try our new forms of journalism

Media is rapidly transforming in response to new consumer behaviour. 

As the media continues to grapple with the ‘future of journalism’ and financially sustainable media, we must also remember that the media is operating in a tough environment where interest in news is on a decline and audiences are expressing what researchers are now calling ‘selective news avoidance’.

In this year’s Digital News Report (DNR 2023), interest in news was found to be lower amongst women and younger audiences with many reporting news fatigue compounded by the difficult times we are living in.

Studies have shown that younger audiences specifically avoid news because it is ‘triggering’ and some have reported feeling helpless and hopeless by the unending negative news cycles.

Furthermore, according to the DNR 2023, news avoiders range from those who avoid most news sources, that is scrolling past news and changing the channels when the news comes on, to those who have reduced the number of times they check news and finally to those who avoid certain topics that bring down their mood or increase their anxiety.

In the midst of all this, perhaps this could be the perfect opportunity for the media to experiment with new forms of journalism that break away from the conventional and might even stir up the audiences.

One such form of journalism is Solutions Journalism, founded a decade ago by journalists David Bornstein, Tina Rosenberg and Courtney Martin. Traditionally, journalism has been about reporting about what is wrong and unfair in society.

Journalists pride themselves in flooding the darkness with light and bringing to the fore what some – the powerful- do not want to be exposed.

Journalism, if you ask many journalists, journalism is about holding those in power accountable and for some, in the famous words of Finley Peter Dunne, the newspaper ‘comforts the afflicted, afflicts the comfortable’.

That said, one must agree that these are different times when media is experiencing an unprecedented existential crisis.

It wouldn’t hurt to try new forms of journalism over and beyond the founding principle of "journalism is about reporting what is wrong in society”.

Solutions journalism is about investigating and explaining ‘in a critical and clear-eyed way, how people try to solve widely shared problems.’

Journalists should by all means report what is wrong in society. However, they must not leave it at that, they must take it a step further and interrogate the response to the issue, while distilling the key lessons or insights that make that response relevant (or not) and also ensure to back up the effectiveness of the response with evidence without forgetting to point out the limitations.

This means that it is not enough to publish photos of improper garbage disposal in Nairobi estates, it is equally important to probe the responses from the county government, establish what works and why and also point out any limitations to these responses and solutions.

Some journalists would argue that it is not their job to report solutions and their effectiveness, that is the work of policy makers and other government officials.

My ‘solution’ to that is that in this era of disruption and news fatigue, journalists must be ready to have that difficult conversation about revising the boundaries of their jobs- if they are to stay in circulation.

- Dr Chege is a media and technology researcher