Spotlight Wins Best Picture, But Can It Save Journalism?

Posted in: Thoughts

“Spotlight” the movie about the Boston Globe’s investigation into years of sexual abuse and subsequent cover ups inside the Catholic church has just won best picture. For journalists like me it is a reminder of the importance of quality journalism and its power to change the world.

But can such journalism thrive in the increasingly digital world, where mainstream media – once pride itself as the sole gatekeeper for information – had to compete with blog posts, YouTube videos and social media statuses? More importantly can it thrive here in Indonesia?

There has been a lot of investigative reports, unraveling practices of corruption and injustices in Indonesia but in the age of social media the impact is not the same as it used to be. The way people consume news is very different from a few short years ago. People like to read stories on their phones, read snippets and sensational headlines their friends share or look for stuff that is trending on Twitter.

The currency used by the journalism of today seems to be hits and pageviews, not impact, let alone art for art’s sake. Journalists seem to race to be the fastest to break the most sensational story they can find on social media for the sake of a few hundred retweets and likes.

No matter how exclusive and shocking, thoroughly researched and brilliantly written, an investigative report stands no chance against a story about a leaked celebrity sex tape or some antics pulled by a controversial politician. A groundbreaking story can have zero impact if the headline doesn’t start with “This Man is” and ends with “You Wouldn’t Believe What Happened Next” or if it is tweeted at the wrong time of day or your search engine optimization techniques suck.

We live in a world where the bizarre, the man bites dog kind of story and nothing else, passed as news. A world where for a story to be worth anything it must be based on some specific keywords that people are searching online through Google.

The time when a single photo of a graft suspect out to enjoy a tennis match 1,000 kilometers away from the cell he was supposed to be in can send six police officers to jail, seems to be behind us.

And yet some of us still do it. Still out for stories no one else dares to tell. It is a calling, an addiction, a passion.

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