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By Thomas Baekdal - July 2021

Holding the press to account, mental health, and a news app that helps people understand the news?

This is an archived version of a Baekdal Plus newsletter (it's free). It is sent out about once per week and features the latest articles as well as unique insights written specifically for the newsletter. If you want to get the next one, don't hesitate to add your email to the list.

Welcome back to the Baekdal Plus newsletter. Today, I have three important things for you.

  1. In the first article I talk about how we as the press need to make sure that we don't undermine our own reporting.
  2. The second article is a case study from a concept news app, created by two students. And it's really exciting.
  3. The last thing is a call for a better focus on mental health, for our journalists, but also for those around us.


The day I almost decided to hold the press to account

If you are following me on Twitter, you will know that I sometimes get really frustrated when I see a news site publish an article about something the tech companies are doing, while seemingly forgetting that they, as a newspaper, are doing the exact same thing themselves.

I call this 'fake outrage'. It's when you are really upset when others do something, but have no problem when you do it yourself. Any company who acts like this can't be trusted, and we know this.

For instance, if one of the big oil companies held a press conference where they claimed to be 'very concerned about climate change', we wouldn't believe them. It is not about what they say, it's about what they do. Show me that you are concerned and are willing to do something about it, don't tell me.

This is true for everyone, but it's even more important for the press. Because journalism only works if we have the trust of the public, what we say and what we do must be aligned. However, every week, I come across examples where this isn't the case.

As a media analyst, I'm particularly frustrated by this because of the damage this is causing us. I see so many great examples of journalism, where the journalists have done an amazing job uncovering a problem. But then, their own newspapers act in a way that makes them hypocrites.

So, this week, I got so frustrated by this that I very nearly went on the attack. I explain how and why in: "The day I almost decided to hold the press to account".


What if a news app helped you understand your news reading better?

In my second article today, I have something truly exciting for you. It's a concept news app that two students created, and it completely changes the way you think about your editorial focus, the volume of news, and, most importantly, the way you think about data and privacy.

I absolutely love this concept. It's not perfect (nothing ever is), but this news app incorporates functionality that I would love to have when I am reading the news.

So take a look at "What if a news app helped you understand your news reading better?"


Naomi Osaka: 'It's O.K. Not to Be O.K.'

Naomi Osaka, world-famous tennis player, recently published an article in Time Magazine, talking about her experience with mental health, and how that relates to the press.

If you don't know the story, earlier this year, Naomi refused to attend a press conference because of how that was impacting her mental health, and she needed a break.

The response from this was... embarrassing to watch. She was forced to quit the tournament, and the sport press came on her like a pack of wolves, forcing her to reveal deeply personal elements about her personal mental health, and scolding her for not doing the press conference. Apparently, we don't care about the mental health of others. All we care about is to have another press conference.

Mind you, there were also many people who supported her, including people in the press. It was not all bad, but the point is that it should not have gone like this.

As journalists, there are times where it is appropriate to demand answers. This is particularly the case with politics, especially around times where they are trying to enact new legislation. During those times, our job is to ask questions and hold them to account if they are doing something bad.

We all understand that.

But outside of this, journalism is not a right, and this is especially the case with tennis. If one feels bad or stressed after a tennis match, as journalists we have no right to damage their mental health by pressuring them. Your story about tennis does not supersede people's health.

As Naomi writes:

Perhaps we should give athletes the right to take a mental break from media scrutiny on a rare occasion without being subject to strict sanctions.
In any other line of work, you would be forgiven for taking a personal day here and there, so long as it's not habitual. You wouldn't have to divulge your most personal symptoms to your employer; there would likely be HR measures protecting at least some level of privacy.
In my case, I felt under a great amount of pressure to disclose my symptoms-frankly because the press and the tournament did not believe me. I do not wish that on anyone and hope that we can enact measures to protect athletes, especially the fragile ones. I also do not want to have to engage in a scrutiny of my personal medical history ever again. So I ask the press for some level of privacy and empathy next time we meet.

She is absolutely right about this, and I strongly encourage you to read her full article.

What made me particularly angry about this was also that, in the press, we have been talking about mental health for journalists. Over the past several years, many journalists have experienced mental health breakdowns due to a number of things. We have seen increasing attacks on journalists, much closer scrutiny from activist groups trying to undermine journalists, death threats, and then came the pandemic.

So for the past year and a half, we have seen an incredibly important discussion around how we can fix this problem around mental health for journalists. For instance, here is a talk from Reuters Institute, and here is another from NewsRewired.

But, then, in the middle of this, Naomi told us: "Please people, I need to take the rest of the day off to protect my mental health" ... and we, the press, went, "No no no, you can't do that because our press conference is more important than your health!"

I mean... seriously?!?

As Naomi also wrote:

Upon reflection, it appears to me that the majority of tennis writers do not agree. For most of them, the traditional press conference is sacred and not to be questioned. One of their main concerns was that I might set a dangerous precedent, but to my knowledge, no one in tennis has missed a press conference since. The intention was never to inspire revolt, but rather to look critically at our workplace and ask if we can do better.

This is not okay. And I fully support Naomi in everything she wrote. We need to do better, and we do need to question why we have press conferences.

But this story is actually about something even bigger than just Naomi or the tennis journalists. It's also about news in general and the public.

One thing we have seen very clearly over the last several years is the problem around news fatigue, and 66% of those thinking about avoiding news say that they are doing it to protect their mental health.

This is a scary statistic because it shows us that our journalism is making people sick. So, this discussion about mental health is far bigger than just Naomi or ourselves as journalists. It's about what we do to the world.

We have to protect our mental health, not just for ourselves, or those we write about, but also for those we write for.

My friend, Marcela Kunova, over at Journalism.co.uk, recommended two people who might be helpful:

If we want to improve the mental health of journalists, let's do it with the people around us.

This is an archived version of a Baekdal Plus newsletter (it's free). It is sent out about once per week and features the latest articles as well as unique insights written specifically for the newsletter. If you want to get the next one, don't hesitate to add your email to the list.

 
 
 

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Thomas Baekdal

Founder, media analyst, author, and publisher. Follow on Twitter

"Thomas Baekdal is one of Scandinavia's most sought-after experts in the digitization of media companies. He has made ​​himself known for his analysis of how digitization has changed the way we consume media."
Swedish business magazine, Resumé

 

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