Media Tour report

Covering tech issues: 

Does the media have what it takes?

In today’s world, everything is quickly becoming digital. The distinction between offline and online is fading. The ‘e-‘ prefix is slowly becoming redundant.

Yet, there is a sharper need for the media to develop more expertise in digital and tech. As Swiss Press Club Director Pierre Ruetschi said, issues related to digitalisation are significantly complex. 

Ruetschi’s scene-setting introduction, during a recent event organised by the Swiss Press Club and the Geneva Internet Platform (GIP), was a prelude for a substantive debate on whether the media has what it takes to cover digital and tech. The debate was moderated by GIP’s Head Prof. Jovan Kurbalija.

The challenges

There are good, bad, and ugly examples of tech coverage, Diplo’s Digital Policy Director Stephanie Borg Psaila explained. While most coverage is good, some of it tends to either ride the wave of sensationalism and hype (blockchain as a ‘miracle’) or sit it out entirely (the OEWG’s recent success). In rare instances, news is misreported

Richard Werly, EU affairs correspondent at Le Temps, thinks that the problems are linked to both substance and form. Digital issues are often covered by people who do not know much about technology. It’s a lost-in-translation problem where journalists need either to ramp up their knowledge or rely on unbiased interlocutors. They also need to find ways of making tech coverage more visually appealing (to grab a reader’s interest) and visually digestible (to hold it). 

Lukas Mäder, technology editor at Neue Zürcher Zeitung AG, thinks there are two knowledge gaps among journalists. The first is about the technology itself; the second is about technology’s impact on our lives. Media houses face an additional challenge: whether to engage specialised tech reporters or to entrust this role to reliable sources who can assist mainstream journalists in their coverage. 

The speakers also discussed the impact of geopolitical relevance of tech developments on the dynamics between tech and political desks in editorial rooms worldwide. 

Geneva to the world

As the home to hundreds of UN institutions, Geneva tackles many digital aspects that impact our lives. Kurbalija believes these aspects deserve much more media attention, beyond what the city is receiving within its 10 km radius.

Yet, Geneva comes with its own set of challenges, some of which originate at the source. For instance, Ruetschi thinks that Geneva-based organisations use too much diplomatic lingo, which makes it difficult to get their message through to journalists. The result, as Werly and Mäder explained, is that Geneva fades out in comparison to Brussels and other policy hubs. Borg Psaila thinks that Geneva needs to overcome its geographical ‘silo within a silo’ issue.

A positive prognosis

The way in which we’re consuming media has changed and has opened up new opportunities for journalists. Journalism is shifting in relevance. This shift is driven by people’s need for instant updates on social media and the need for a more in-depth analysis of digital developments. 

The speakers believe that the media’s role, therefore, is no longer that of informing others, but of analysing developments. To satisfy this need, there needs to be deeper coverage of the impact of technology and the way digital issues affect people’s lives.  

The future for quality journalism looks bright indeed. 

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