The Business of Prospective Thinking and the Art of “Reasoned” Guessing in Journalism

Prospective thinking is a booming business. Data or ‘facta*’ in Latin are the raw material humans use already for centuries on a daily basis to forecast and transform them into ‘futura’. It helps us, humans, rationalize our daily life occupations and further ‘humanize’ our world. Knowing trains are driving on a reliable timetable, household waste will be collected on fixed dates, etc. are typical examples of this. These practical concerns of having grip on ‘futura’ drives traditionally most of the technological innovations but it goes today far beyond simply counting on repetitiveness and grip on immediate futures. It invests deliberately in changes playing with disruption as much as with continuity. It makes more than ever our futures a field of power play and of economic and social war practices. The marketing practices acclaiming the many advantages of personalization contain thus often lures to have us robbed of the ownership of our personal data. Developing platforms that empower citizens to preserve their privacy and empowers them to negotiate compensation for the use of their data by big economic and political players may help us regain our future and independence both as individuals and as communities, making knowledge again a personal and /or societal attribute. The work of Professor Dawn Sing at Berkeley on which NYT recently reported seems promising in this field along similar attempts in Europe where regulatory discussions and the perspective of getting public money are fueling interest of tech labs in it.

During a tech talk organized by AEJ Belgium together with German BREKO, Antonio Arcidiacono, CTO&CIO of the European Broadcasting Union, made a plea for intensifying media literacy courses in class in the same way as teenagers have now music classes. The general idea of this being that educational history proofs that providing young people music literacy helps them concretely to better appreciate music and could do so as well in regard to the skills needed to detect quality in reporting and have an honest appreciation on what is needed to bring quality journalism. Bringing media literacy into education is thus part of the much needed answer to the Janus faced challenges new technologies are bringing up.  In this context quality journalism, essentially a craft, must learn to work intelligently with AI and to address the question how to build effective interaction with the trillions of micro contributions social media offer to what is their core business: making news. This is a much discussed challenge for the traditional media companies still grappling with the loss of their traditional gatekeeper power to tech platforms but it is even more important for the individual journalist as his place is perhaps no longer exclusively with vertically integrated media companies. So called influencers are a form of expression of this new media landscape, directly competing often with journalists for the attention of people. More worrying is the de-skilling: the gig economy is also affecting journalism, especially the local one that absolutely needs civic support as it is an essential agent for cohesion and for a sound democracy in notably combating mis &dis-information. Journalism as a craft needs to radically do away with romantic sentimentalism and to go for a creative tension between old school journalism and new channels of bringing news, re-inventing itself, taking leave of destructive tensions.

Therefore it is crucial, also to individual journalists, to pick up with what media labs are able to offer to professional journalists today when wanting to do their job of reporting properly in an environment, a business model, that tends to forget to put real news in the center. We are back in a time when presumptions get the power of testimonies. This is not necessarily to be totally condemned. It is probably concomitant to times that offer a lot of changes. No problem with thinking forward but it has to be reasoned. Absence of reasoning appears today often most blatantly in the Climate debates. Responsible journalism is a societal challenge as it was in previous times of massive innovation and of technological progress. Our future is not to be left to our dreams. Making conjectures is natural to all human beings.  But if we want to go beyond opinions and café talks, we need ‘reasoned’ conjectures on what is to come and quality journalism has an important role to play in it.

+ posts

Lieven Taillie is the President of the Association of European Journalists in Belgium.