Journalism has never been more vital nor will it have a better chance to win back trust

It makes for haunting, distressing viewing. With each new day, the televised Coronavirus Daily Update shrouded in more deaths. Words of comfort offered for broken families, shattered lives as tears spill over.

Health experts and scientists try and make sense of it for us. To appear like they really know what they are doing, that it’s not all just best guesses and hope.

Politicians too try to convince they are in control, that they have a plan, even as their own numbers fall to Covid-19.

Pick up any paper, click any news website or broadcast and you’ll have seen one dominant story – the Prime Minister being treated at an Intensive Care Unit after his condition from the virus worsened.

All after days of denials, spin and rebuttals that he was anything other in control. Even as oxygen was forced up his nose, the podium mantra refused to deviate.

So little wonder Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab danced between the raindrops as he was pressed and pushed on what it all means, who is really in control if not entirely him.

Worryingly, it seems no one is sure, or if they are then no-one wants to say it out loud.

Senior parliamentarians and experts stand at podiums and field carefully restricted numbers of questions from reporters at videos length.

But the inquiries have bite, punches are no longer being pulled.

On either side of the broadcasts, relatives of the dead describe their grief, business owners speak through despairing eyes and cut-a-ways show windows filled with rainbows hand drawn by bewildered children.

Anyone who saw staff speak with BBC’s Fergus Walsh and camera operator Adam Walker on the frontline at University College Hospital in London couldn’t fail, surely, to be moved by the exhaustion, fear and bravery of NHS staff.

It would be easy to succumb to tears listening to Emeka Nyack’s mum Anne as she described the last moments of her bus driver son before he too died.

Some may have been among those taking to social media seething after Scotland’s chief medical officer Catherine Calderwood was exposed by the Scottish Sun for visiting her second home twice as the crisis grew, while lecturing the public to stay home instead.

Elsewhere others will feel compelled enough to open their doors and windows, bang their pots and pans, strike up the bagpipes or just clap loudly in tribute to the NHS and other key workers who are, literally, putting their lives on the line in these times of crisis.

A sense of togetherness in a world never so far out of reach.

And while newspapers may sit untouched on the shelves, or as journalists are furloughed and laid off like ordinary workers by already distressed publishing businesses while digital traffic and subscriptions finally begin to soar, something is clear.

Journalism, trusted journalism, may never be more important than now.

This time, this moment, is when newspaper editors, publishers, broadcasters and journalists must be ready to stand up and be counted.

It is this rare point in history when profit, for once, cannot come before the story.

What we find out, report and share now will define what happens next for generations to come. Our nations, our economy, our liberties and the way we live.

Here too is the chance – a lifeboat no-one saw coming – for a once great trade ravaged by scandal, lies and shame, to cast all that aside and win back its respect.

While rival platforms with responsibilities get lost in the weeds of fake news, memes and photographs of freshly baked bread, real news outlets have never been so vital.

It is now in these moments of need that those who deserted news outlets in disgust or fatigue are giving them a second chance.

Just as great-grandparents learn how to use Zoom, Hangouts and Skype, so too have they mastered PressReader, apps and newsletters.

Locked down with nothing to do but worry or clean, households are turning in droves to digital news – live blogs, experts, video.

And for the most part even crippled by the crisis themselves, journalists are delivering the essential news headlines, explainers, scrutiny, writing, photography, design, video, infographics and more in real time.

As the underfunding of the NHS and its health heroes has been cruelly, nakedly exposed in this crisis to the extent that its ability to save lives has been horribly compromised, comes hoped that in the calm that surely follows will come change.

Media for its small part, needs to go through similar process. Questions need to be asked about whether it is fit for purpose, if industry leaders are investing in the right things and if too much us being asked of too few by too many.

Whether journalism – and all it means for democracy especially in times of global crisis – has been pushed too far to the brink, starved of resource for too long and needs realigned.

Journalism has never been more important than today.

As a spectator right now, I watch in awe as news colleagues put aside anger over long hours and slashed wages; shrug off with one eye open the very risk to their own health and refuse to be palmed off in order to get answers to things we need to know.

As Freedom of Information requests are delayed – a move voted through by the Scottish Parliament – such scrutiny becomes even more vital. As Downing Street tries to manage the messaging, transparency has to be at the fore.

If journalism fails in moments like these because of finance, democracy is dead.

Flocking to news sites in such growing numbers, readers might not be able to save all media from foundering or even going to the wall.

But they offer hope. And perhaps a chance to reset a bond of trust, a mutual respect, that had been lost for far too long.

This crisis is far, far from over. Journalism has a responsibility to be the firewall between truth and lies, facts and spin.  It has to record the human cost of this tragedy so that among the daily numbers, we will never forget the names of those who died.

Yes, it makes for haunting, distressing viewing.

But without it, would we ever discover the real truths?








Categories: Blogs, by Shaun Milne, Media

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