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Democracies essentially need access to information to be functional. However, we have observed in recent years a high degree of fake news and their success stories. While fake news has been creating its own realities, so-called professional journalism isn’t running well. Nowadays, a journalist’s work is valorised not by quality of content, but by the clicks articles receive. This has inevitably caused a commercial impact. Also, Facebook has started to allow the spreading out of messages on the basis of comments and icon inputs. The old English motto «If it bleeds, it leads» perfectly orchestrates this mechanism. Exaggeration of facts is only one of the harmless tendencies to get attention.
As a circular reaction, journalism alone is losing the trust of the public. And even more dangerous, as a consequence, the valour of truth itself goes into crisis. The number of people who just want their beliefs confirmed is growing. The ones who want to be confronted with opposite opinions, as material for discussion and reflection, have increased problems in finding subjects matters that are treated in a profound way.
In times when research is less and less implicated in the publishing work, the quest for a solution seems urgent and this year’s online Thessaloniki Documentary Festival has given a prime place for it as a world premiere. At the beginning of Alberto Puliafito´s documentary Slow News, which will lead us to most different corners of the planet, stands a book with the same title published by Peter Laufer, who is engaged at Oregon University. This writer has been found by two Italian journalists in a time of crisis, Alberto Puliafito himself and his collaborator, both working for Milan’s online website Blogo, one of Italy’s largest online journals, which sometimes publishes as many as 400 articles a day. They felt the need for change and decided to launch the concept of Slow News at the International Conference for Journalism in Perugia, Italy.
As a circular reaction, journalism alone is losing the trust of the public.
Starting with a mockery, by launching a fake news story, Ermes Mailia observed the usual process – published by a private group where the fake story is retaken by a blog and finally ends up on the pages of serious newspapers. By receiving the same fake news from different sides, the public can easily be convinced, and after having believed in it, develops a strong resistance to being marked as silly. In politics, spreading out lies and then offering solutions is a common strategy. On a larger level, the daily overwhelming of information just by itself is a caustic problem, remembering that a fact can be interpreted in different, sometimes even opposite ways. Only contextualisation can valorise facts. Assimilating wrong causal connections between «facts» are also a well-known practice. But in reality, reading news on cell phones, even during a person’s few quiet minutes of spare time, has replaced smoking.
The first question, of course, confronting these problems would be how the financing of profound journalism is possible. On their international travels, the Blogo team found some inspirations, like a journal, which drastically reduced the quantity of published text by offering their subscribers a selection of well-researched texts, which they can send their community for free. The receiver will know from whom they got the article and then maybe join the group.
Another tendency is to re-estimate the aesthetics of the «Slow Food» movement and to create new connections between journalism, sharing, community, and lifestyle. The easiest way to start is in friendly meetings between the journalist and their public, which is also a good opportunity for fruitful exchanges. These encounters are a stimulating invitation to follow up with the texts of the journalists present more carefully.
Offering another kind of news is in referring to realities before or after the spectacle (crime, violence, wars, disaster, etc.), a notable missing link in the media landscape; for example, to go back to the life-after-the battle-scenarios, where the real long term problems for the victims start. Another impact would be to focus on the long-term essentials, which aren´t in the daily news charts, for example, to treat the facts of climate change, and not just their events, like demonstrations and statements.
More profound strategies are pointed out by the economist Julia Cagé. She proposes getting the State involved to follow up private donations by adding a proportional subvention on the basis of the amount given by citizens, to guarantee the independence of journalism from the influence of shareholders. Let’s mention here that this concept can lead to the contrary, a quite undesired influence by (not so private) donators. More convincing is her second proposition, to make Facebook and Co., which are already making their profits on the basis of journalists’ works, paying taxes in Europe and the States to finance independent journalism. The organisation in charge of distributing this money to the wealth of different information media should, of course, be monitored carefully. She remembered that the crisis of information is one of the most important reasons for upcoming populism.
A stronger movement
Puliafito brings together representatives from The New York Times, Buzz Feed News, La Stampa, Corriere delle Sera, and many from smaller media to let them develop their ideas. As editor and co-founder (in 2015) of Slow News in Italy, Puliafito’s position as a film director can only be engaged. In 2005 he had already founded TvBlog, for which he writes the Malaparte column, and in 2007 the independent production company iK Produzioni.
Only contextualisation can valorise facts.
His documentary Comando e Controllo (2010) treats the mechanisms of propaganda and information control during an emergency, the earthquake in the Italian Renaissance town of Aquila ion April 6th, 2006, which caused large destruction and left thousands of people homeless. In Hamattan (2008) he described the effects of the limits of communication and interaction between some Italian social volunteer workers and the people from the village of Oualia (Mali).
Now in Slow News he offers a stimulating document of possibilities, a direction in which to go and for the participants an opportunity for a change to come in regards to communication with each other, to make the Slow News movement stronger. This at least is the hope of the always-present Peter Laufer.