Nairobi, Kenya — In the face of unprecedented environmental, social, and economic challenges, a new understanding of the role of journalism in society is essential.
How do we tackle this?
A new understanding of the role of journalism in society is needed to raise awareness of the challenges and also help protect lives and livelihoods. Sustainable journalism that focuses on creating long-term financial and environmental sustainability for the industry and produces high-quality, reliable, and informative news content that serves the public interest. It recognises the importance of social responsibility, diversity, and ethical reporting practices in producing journalism that reflects the values of the communities it serves, according to Fojo Media Institute.
But let's be honest.
Trying to fight off widespread fake news, clickbait articles, disinformation, and misinformation can make it hard to differentiate fact and myth. This is the motivating force behind the Sustainable Journalism in Practice Conference, co-hosted by the Aga Khan University in Nairobi, Kenya, and the Wits Centre for Journalism in South Africa, together with the Fojo Media Institute. The conference brings together media workers to discuss new ways of doing journalism, that are constructive, sustainable, and grounded in an African context, and based on the core values of independent, public-interest journalism.
The aim of the conference is to provide an informal and open environment where people can jointly share experiences and find innovative answers to these challenges.
During her opening remarks at the conference, Professor Nancy Booker, the Dean of the Graduate School of Media and Communications at the Aga Khan University, expressed her hope that during the conference, attendees would take the opportunity to reflect and celebrate, but also to consider what role journalism should play in the face of significant challenges in the environmental, social, political, and economic spheres at the local, regional, and global levels.
Booker highlighted several critical topics to guide the conference discussions. These include the role of journalism in producing content that contributes to sustainable societies, the need to review current business models, the responsibility of journalism in shaping public discourse about climate change and how to respond to it, the importance of gender diversity in newsrooms, and the crucial role of young people in ensuring sustainability.
"Journalism faces the challenge of sustaining itself from a content perspective while contributing to revenue and sustainable societies. Media houses have to innovate to find models that sustain their business, which has resulted in job losses and a need for unlearning and relearning. Journalism has a role to play in shaping public discourse about climate change, and the media's coverage of climate-related stories has increased but is also propagating misinformation.
"Sustainable journalism must evidence inclusivity and diversity by being as diverse as its audiences are. Companies with diverse executive teams are more likely to enjoy above-average profitability. Including youth in organisations brings profitability, and Africa's young population must be intentionally included in all spheres for sustainability," Booker said.
Booker emphasised the significance of research, education, and training in sustainable journalism and the vital connection between journalism and sustainability at the core of these discussions.
Exploring the Role of Sustainable Journalism
The concept of sustainable journalism implies a fundamental connection between crises. In order to establish a sustainable society in economic, ecological, and social terms, journalism must confront the challenges related to sustainability. To get an understanding of the concept of sustainable journalism, Lars Tallert, founder and president of the Sustainable Journalism Partnership, explained what it is and why it's important.
"I think there are two main challenges for the media and for society. And they're both connected to sustainability. And for the media, you can even phrase it as can we even continue to exist? There are so many media companies that do traditional journalism, that are on the verge of bankruptcy. So there's a great need to rethink journalism, rethink audience engagement, and rethink revenue streams and business models. So this is one part of sustainable journalism."
"The other question is, as journalism is not only about making money, but it's also about serving the community and serving a sustainable society. We all know that, if we're not managing ... the climate crisis, we will not be a civilised society, there might not even be a liveable planet. So it's not like we can choose between either or, we need to make money in order to be financially sustainable in order to continue to exist. We also need to contribute to a sustainable society, to a good society in order to exist as a society."
Tallert explains how sustainable journalism differs from traditional journalism practices.
"We need to provide credible news, credible content to our customers, based on the principles of good journalism. But we also need to rethink journalists not least from an audience engagement perspective, a lot of media act as if we are still gatekeepers. We haven't been gatekeepers for the last 15 years, we are now just part of the great information flow, and we have to adapt accordingly. So the foundation is traditionally principles of good journalism. Providing that is a cornerstone of a democratic society. But the difference is much more focused on sustainability issues. We are focused on the environment and climate change. We are focused on gender balance and inclusion. And we are focused on economic sustainability, both in media and society."
Journalism plays a critical role in covering the impacts of climate change, including loss and damage. Loss and damage refer to the harm caused by the effects of climate change, including extreme weather events, sea-level rise, and loss of biodiversity. These impacts can result in human and economic losses, such as loss of property, displacement, and loss of livelihoods. Tallert explains the ethical considerations in reporting on loss and damage, particularly in vulnerable communities.
" ... I think that really says something about why we need sustainable journalism. Because if we're looking at loss and damage from climate change from a traditional so-called objective journalism perspective, it's not good enough. This is a question that goes deeply into the global society structures organised by the domination of the rich countries and the fact that the rich countries have destroyed our Earth. And now we expect the poor countries to pay the bill. Now, is that a question for journalists to address? And traditionally, maybe you would say no, this is too big ... too difficult. But I think we have to address this, as this is absolutely crucial to the future of journalism, and the future of our society.
"And if they (rich countries) don't pay the bill to the poor countries, that will be devastating, not only for the poor countries but also for the rich countries. So we are dependent on each other in a way that never has occurred before in history."
"The wonderful thing is that the concept and the way of looking at journalism are spreading extremely fast. And I'm from a small group of media leaders, and researchers, it has become a known concept all over the world. And we can see it at this conference. What is more interesting is to look at what examples we have of sustainable journalism. And I think one wonderful example is The Voice in Botswana. I love the way they look at journalism - that is sustainable journalism."
The Voice is a print and online publication, based in Botswana, and founded by Beata Kasale and Don Laurence Moore.
Finally, Tallert hopes that the goals and outcomes achieved through organising the sustainable conference. "We need to avoid defining the solution as 'we need another conference'. We want to avoid telling other people, like the government or donors, what they should do and what they support. I hope that this conference will end up defining very specific doable action points that we do within the media industry. We can no longer tell other people what they should do. We must ask ourselves, what can we do?"