Welcome to my new blog – intended to be a celebration of journalism in a world where it is increasingly criticised for its lack of quality, relevance, polarisation and trust.

However, if you lift the lid on most of our newsrooms you will find little evidence to substantiate this.

It is within the ranks of the critics that you will find polarisation, ill-informed opinions, lack of understanding and ubiquitous criticism enabled by social media platforms where a culture of attack without consequences has been legitimised.

Before I get into my first topic – which is going to centre around debate – I want to reference a couple of pieces of research that debunk the myth that we produce journalism without trust. The social media trollers of our journalists quite simply have this wrong.

Throughout last year, our journalists – no matter which publisher employed them – saw their work read more widely than ever before – and the level of engagement between reader and audience increased (ref Enders). 

Detractors have castigated journalists and publishers for pursuing a clickbait diet of journalism. But the avaricious nature of our readers would have quickly turned away from this and found a different menu to consume had the quality of journalism not been met. 

Reuters Research Institute reported in a recent survey “Only a quarter (24%) of our respondents think social media do a good job in separating fact from fiction, compared to 40% for the news media.”

That is not to say we should be complacent.  More research from the Reuters Institute has pointed to a crisis of communication during the Covid-19 pandemic as the media industry’s reporting of it has been tainted by the public’s attitudes to the ways politicians have handled the crisis. Which means that if the Government cannot get its message to the public via the media, and social is largely discredited, then how does the public receive information it can trust.

Which brings me to my theme about debate – and the opportunity from this artform.

The posh titles call it Op-Ed – but try rebranding it Ideas Journalism or Opinion Journalism and you open the gates to a diverse mix of rich content.

Katherine Kingsbury, the newly-confirmed Opinion Editor for the New York Times, is leading a quiet revolution in Opinion publishing that we could all learn from. (See her interview on NiemanLab)

Ideas Journalism – is the opportunity we can give to our readers (audience) to debate matters of weight, relevance, community, life generally.

Kingsbury has radically reduced the amount of opinion in the NYT, preferring to invest in quality rather than quantity. And she is bringing the communication of Opinion into the digital age.

Embedded audio clips bring the debate to life. Topics are broadened into Podcasts. Video embeds can show debate taking place on digital platforms – all of this leading to authoritative reporting in a digital format that our audience readily consumes.

Just look at the exponential growth in podcasts, the proliferation of audio book platforms, the ubiquitous nature of AI in our households, such as Alexa – which demonstrates there is no lack of appetite for people to listen to people’s opinions.

We just need to find the right opinions. Op Ed does not have to be stridently controversial. It does not have to be a polemic debate. Debate is just that – an intelligent conversation that we can host in our printed titles or online – we just need to do it more imaginatively and to embrace the software and AI technology that is readily available.

Trint – a developing audio software enterprise now used by the NYT and Washington Post – is a brilliant example of how new technology can help to offer up audio clips as print soundbites on a content sharing platform. A great opportunity for incorporating audio debates into Op Ed or Opinion Journalism.

Just take a look at the letters pages of our titles and you would worry that debate is drying up. It has merely migrated onto other platforms because it is more convenient. So, instead of a 1500-word Op Ed piece with one person’s view about green energy or wind farms – open up the debate. Embed your audio into the article – allow differing views – be the platform that hosts the debate.

No other platform does this. Facebook and Twitter are merely purveyors of people’s views. We have the opportunity to curate, craft and collaborate with our audience to bring together debate in a reasonable way that is easy on the ear.

All we need are the Ideas. Hence Ideas Journalism. 

Take for example, a recent controversial decision about whether a regional airport should be allowed to expand. This never really developed in the media beyond an argument about jobs or pollution, while the opportunity around this was far broader. The coverage was one dimensional – and an opportunity missed about how to manage the debate and by which channels. Reader opinion panels on the subject, webcast interviews, expert opinion from the industry and universities are all tools that could have helped in this debate.

Our opportunity is not just to report on the issues, but to create opportunity through our ideas, stimulate debate, engage with our audience and watch them engage more frequently with us, helping to bring our brands to life.

So, my challenge is take a look through your titles over the past few months with a Debate Filter on – identify those opportunities to engage with your audiences that have been missed – and reacquaint ourselves with the idea of seeking out Ideas or Opinion Journalism to capitalise on debate and engagement.

Feel free to let me know your thoughts on this subject and issues you would like to get involved in: email jeremyclifford@celebratingjournalism.com