Updated: Mar 31, 2020
The novel coronavirus has unleashed a broad range of disruptions beyond the humanitarian and health arenas. As noted in yesterday’s post, COVID19 arrived just as a range of advanced analytical automations were gaining critical mass in the workforce.
The distributional impact in society is uneven. Knowledge workers mostly have the luxury of staying home. They continue to earn a living. They communicate through email, phone, and video calls. They joke about doing business in pajamas and too much time at home with family. They humanize the experience by posting pictures of their pets. Meanwhile, journalists, truck drivers, bank tellers, and grocery store workers put their lives on the line alongside nurses, doctors and first responders.
Today’s post focuses on the unique challenges faced by journalists. These professionals stand in a unique place in our society. We delegate to them the responsibility of finding information relevant to our lives mostly from government sources and then providing an honest, truthful distillation of the day’s developments. They are not gatekeepers so much as trusted voices and filters.
Before the coronavirus drove us all home, the journalistic profession was facing significant challenges from the barrage of online information resources. Having a wealth of information at our literal fingertips through a few taps on a glass screen creates vulnerabilities which make it harder for the average person and even the crack reporter to identify concrete facts.
The problem is not just malicious misinformation and deep fakes (although these are serious problems). The potentially more insidious problem is the proliferation of half-truths, rumors and mistakes that can take on a life of their own when the velocity of information sharing operates at the speed of light.
As we wrote last summer, finding facts in a Distributed Age can feel like a scavenger hunt. The information age corollary to Gresham’s Law is showing us that bad information (like bad/fake/counterfeit currency) has the capacity to drive good information out of circulation.
The problem was acute and growing before COVID19 arrived. The situation is now rife with risk.
Individuals are now hunkering down at home. Their only lifeline to the outside world is through the internet and social media. This mostly includes journalists, who face an additional disruption.
Many journalists rely on human face-to-face interaction to generate stories. Chance encounters in a hallway or a quiet coffee with a policymaker provide perspective and leaks. Being “in the room where it happens” like a hearing or a public speech provides a reporter with a universe of non-verbal information through body language and seeing who in the room exchanges knowing glances or reactions as specific key words are mentioned by policymakers. Most of the information never makes it into print, but it informs how journalists report a story.
Social distancing deprives journalists of all these sources of information. While they can still pick up a phone and call a policymaker for a quote, the phone call is not likely to generate as much information as the other resources. Journalists now must rely on internet sources more than ever. And they operate in a high velocity environment that places a high value in getting the story right with fewer resources.
A free and critical media is our first defense against autocratic government, so it is particularly troubling to realize that journalists will have difficulty verifying or finding facts from policymakers just as governments assume a larger role in society in order to protect lives.
Just when we need journalists the most to help us see what government is doing, the risk of journalistic mistakes has increased dramatically by shutting off many informal channels of communication.
Strategic analysts like myself share with journalists a passion and a professional responsibility for getting the facts right.
In an effort to give back to the journalist community. BCMstrategy, Inc. is hosting a MeetUp webinar on Friday, April 2 at 11 am EST. We will share our top tips and favorite tools for tracking down concrete facts. It is true that our own platform is a top favorite, but we have many other tools – mostly free! – that might be helpful to our colleagues in journalism.
Please see the invitation below and join us.
You are invited to a Zoom webinar. When: Apr 3, 2020 11:00 AM Eastern Time (US and Canada) Topic: Data-Driven Journalism Amid Social Distancing Register in advance for this webinar: https://zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_xX1MyLMoRK-afQMgSPm8UQ After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar. Looking forward to your participation!
BCMstrategy, Inc. is an early stage technology company that uses patented processes to measure public policy risks globally and daily through the PolicyScope toolkit. During April 2020, due to the severity of the pandemic, access to all PolicyScope tools are available free of charge. To start seeing global public policy reaction functions regarding COVID19 and other policy issues using objective, transparent data, contact us today.