Roberto Pombo and Ricardo de Querol, during the forum The impact of disinformation in the digital age, in Bogotá, on June 6, 2023.PRISA
Journalism has been forced to change rapidly over the past 20 years. The global financial crisis of 2008 and the fall in advertising revenues, the emergence of smartphones and the rise of social networks destroyed traditional business models. Newspapers were transformed to survive in the digital age, with strong bets on digital editions and subscription models. However, questions remain about how to coexist with dwindling incomes, the polarization of social media, the circulation of fake news and the rise of influencers. This was reflected this Tuesday in the forum The impact of disinformation in the digital age, organized by PRISA Media (publisher of EL PAÍS) at the Javeriana University.
Ricardo de Querol, deputy editor of EL PAÍS and author of La gran fragmentación, began the debate with an optimistic message in an interview with Roberto Pombo, editorial director of PRISA Media in Colombia. He believes that traditional media have a place despite the challenges presented by the polarization and sectarianism of the digital age, and that they must strengthen an alternative proposal to the sometimes rabid messages of social networks, prone to go viral and generate higher incomes. "Journalism must look at the long term and resist the temptation to throw flesh at the most sectarian. A media outlet gains prestige when it is able to contradict its own audience."
Ricardo de Querol during his speech. HASTE
The participants shared the concern about the tension generated by social networks, with algorithms that reward divisive messages. Fernando Carrillo, deputy director of PRISA Media for Latin America, commented that the networks often reaffirm the prejudices of users, who seek to hear and read similar opinions. De Querol, for his part, assessed that they have encouraged activism for just causes – the Arab Spring, Me Too – but that they have also been part of the interests of large companies to have angry users and profit from them.
The author of The Great Fragmentation insisted on maintaining optimism, starting from the recognition that journalism no longer has a monopoly on information. "We turn to a reader who comes to us in search of a vision of the world. The criteria of someone you can trust will be essential," he explained in reference to how the quality press can contribute in times of overwhelming amounts of information and artificial intelligence. He also defended the subscription model: "Traditional media have understood that the battle is for a loyal audience, not for a larger audience. It's good that the viability of quality journalism rests on its readers [and not just advertising]."
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After the interview with De Querol, there was a panel with prominent Colombian journalists. The director of EL PAÍS América, Jan Martínez Ahrens, moderated The challenges for journalism in the digital age, which included interventions by the general editor of La Silla Vacía, Daniel Pacheco; the coordinator of the Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP), Jonathan Bock; the director of the master's degree in Journalism of the Javeriana, Gina Morelo; and consultant Diego Santos. Like De Querol, the director of EL PAÍS América conveyed optimism. He opened the conversation with a thought that the American intellectual Walter Lippmann expressed more than a century ago: "People no longer react to truths, but to opinions." Concerns about the future of journalism, in reality, are neither new nor unique to the digital age.
Jan Martínez, Daniel Pacheco, Gina Morelo, Jonathan Bock and Diego Santos during the forum in Bogotá.PRISA
Optimism was present at several points in the debate. Professor Gina Morelo highlighted the findings of the El hormiguero research on the emergence of digital native media in Latin America: she highlighted that these smaller media present new agendas and that they are of high quality. In addition, he valued that artificial intelligence can speed up journalistic tasks such as the transcription of interviews and that this will allow more time for investigative work.
The challenges, however, were not absent either. The coordinator of FLIP, Jonathan Bock, explained that the regional elections next October pose great challenges in municipalities where independent local media are lacking. He recalled Rafael Moreno, a Cordovan journalist murdered in October last year, and stressed that several local politicians classified him as "a murderer with a microphone" for telling the truth. Martínez Ahrens, for his part, agreed with Daniel Pacheco on the dilemmas that journalism has regarding the coverage and visibility of politicians who promote hate speech. Even if the lies are pointed out, candidates can still miss the truth.
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The most skeptical was consultant Diego Santos. "The media have to understand that they have a niche audience and that they cannot counter the massiveness of social networks," he said, referring to problems such as the spread of fake news or divisive messages. For him, artificial intelligence and market logics will make machines replace many journalists. Likewise, like Morelo, he considers that social networks have conditioned the agendas of the media. According to Santos, the need to react quickly to the latest controversy on Twitter has harmed the exercise of "serious journalism" that takes more time to write information and review it. "Journalism became a victim of clicks," said the consultant and columnist for El Tiempo.
The full broadcast of the event is available at this link.
The impact of digitalization on the environment
The impact of digitalization on the environment was one of the concerns that arose in the second panel, Ethical Challenges in Globalization. W Radio journalist Rosario Gómez spoke with the president of Telefónica Movistar Colombia, Fabián Hernández; the manager of climate action and biodiversity of the Development Bank of Latin America (CAF), Alicia Montalvo; the director of Southern Affairs (ADS), Matías Bianchi; and film screenwriter Ramón Jimeno.
"Digitalization is a key enabler for addressing climate change issues. But, at the same time, it has an environmental impact of which we are not aware," the CAF representative emphasized. Some examples are the large number of cell phones that are disposed of without recycling and the amount of energy required to cool the centers that store and process data. "Every time we tweet, send an email, we are generating pollution," he said, referring to a proportion of greenhouse gas emissions that exceeds 4%.
Montalvo also referred to the Escazú Agreement and the importance it has with respect to guaranteeing access to information on environmental impact. For it, it will facilitate that citizens have access to data and that they can have traceability of the actions of the private sector.
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