Journalism featuring art

This is what the future looks like...

“Journalists are artists”, Mark Deuze kicks off. The professor of Media Studies is at home in all disciplines that pass by this evening. “They want to be autonomous, tell their own story and also determine how they do it. They don't care what anyone thinks about the story, but it has to be told”, Deuze outlines the background of journalism.

The storytelling techniques are old fashioned. But the traditional journalistic values of objectivity, ethics and providing a service to the public cause are still alive and kicking. Yet Deuze understands why it is difficult to innovate: "Journalists must report the news 24 hours a day and at the same time we expect them to change radically.”

Bombardment of ideas

"Normally editors-in-chief say", the moderator IJsbrand van Veelen puts a heavy voice on, “Here’s what we’re planning to do. But we think it would be nice to bombard them with innovations.” It will be a bombardment of fresh ideas from the world of art, science and technology. The brand new editor in chiefs of De Volkskrant, NRC and head digital of FD take place on stage to respond after each presentation on this first edition of 'DIT WORDT HET NIEUWS'.

Independence as pride and joy

The first presentation is by Sigrid Gulix from Apache. The Flemish investigative journalistic website finds itself regularly with a court case on its hand after the publication of a critical article. Even though they win every case, it costs a lot of money and time. "Our own insurer is even threatening to withdraw."

The Apache subscribers are co-owners of the site and vote about the direction of the organisation. In addition, they work without advertisers: “You will never find advertisements for companies on our site. Only that way our journalists can write what they want. We write what newspapers cannot write, what politicians do not want to read and what everyone should know.”

Lara Ankersmit, head of digital at FD, finds mutual mistrust undesirable. “Journalists should not say: I am independent, but you are not because you employ advertising. We are not influenced by advertisers."

Imagery, a missed opportunity in the media

Mieke Gerritzen focuses on missed opportunities on the field of image. The designer and former museum director of Museum of the Image (MOTI) cites a trend that is unduly condescended: memes.

“In my opinion, memes are a form of reporting that we must take seriously. Everyone is looking for images that can go viral. Every hype is worth gold due to advertising income. Every reader or mouse click turns a hype into a product.”

As long as the media does not speak the visual language of the young people, that target group becomes increasingly alienated from them. Gerritzen speaks firmly: "We will never go back to a pure form of journalism.”

Nevertheless, René Moerland, editor in chief of NRC, believes that newspapers still have the future. According to him, a newspaper should create an overview of the endless stream of information.

Pulp news: journalistic mess

Suzan Verberne researched ‘pulp news’ on Facebook. She did this by analyzing over 100.000 articles on this platform. An example of pulp news: Woman wants 11 year old dog euthanised — the reason is too ridiculous for words.

“Pulp news is not fake news. It can be true, but it's just journalistic junk." It are articles purely focused on advertising revenue. Written full of subjective terms that respond to your feelings. Employing a proper form high quality journalism also reaches many people. According to Verberne, that proper form is data journalism.

The editor in chief of De Volkskrant, Pieter Klok, reacts enthusiastically: “This is my main goal for the coming years. More hard facts."

Generating tech discussions a la Black Mirror

Artist, scientist and philosopher Koert van Mensvoort makes people think about the future and technology in an original way with his organization Next Nature Network. At a fast pace he explains the public about his projects including the ‘lab grown meat cookbook’ with 45 dishes that you can't cook yet and his fictional employment agency.

Here people experience how robots and technology will change their work. “With vacancies such as an exoskeleton mover, the super smart handyman with Augmented Reality glasses. Or the shiva physiotherapist who gives the perfect massage with four extra robot arms.”

Humorous scenarios, but not unthinkable. Van Mensvoort reaches many people in an original way. His bus, converted into a NANO Supermarket, reached 150.000 people. "Here we showed people potential future products to start a discussion.”

The editors-in-chief react enthusiastically: “That is something that we must also try in journalism. Putting crazy things together and seeing if we can create something new,” Lara Ankersmit of the FD thinks aloud.

According to Klok, artists are better able to look into the future, because they don't - like journalists - think in existing patterns. “I do believe in driving around with a Volkskrant bus. And I find how they talk about cultured meat much more interesting than our average newspaper article.”

Mapping war crimes with your mobile

The British Nick Waters is affiliated with the research collective Bellingcat. "Our work is not different than that of many journalists, but our sources are." Based on information on the internet, they map war crimes such as the shooting of MH 17.

"Suppose there is a rocket installation here firing on Belgium - because, well, whatever," Waters jokes. "Then several people would film it and put it online." And on the basis of one video on social media, they sometimes reconstruct entire events, such as a mass execution in Libya.

“By merging these images, we got a panorama of the area. We saw buildings, roads and plants. After a long search on Google Earth we found the place. We even saw the blood stains. The shadow told us when the execution was carried out."

"De Volkskrant should be able to do this too" says moderator IJsbrand van Veelen. Klok thinks differently about this: “To be honest, this is too difficult for us. We better can collaborate with parties such as Bellingcat than trying to set up such a team ourselves.”

What is social media still worth?

The penultimate speaker looks at his name on the big screen and then addresses Nick Waters. “My name Constant Dullaart is real. And no, it doesn't mean continuously boring art."

Dullaart showed how easy the system is to manipulate. He bought 2.5 million followers on Instagram and distributed it to 30 accounts in the art world. He equalised the follower counts for all accounts and with that removed the competition on the social medium. "I became known as the Lenin of social media.”

“Later I decided to manipulate this competition industry more dramatically. So I founded a Facebook army: 13.000 accounts inspired by the Hessian rental soldiers who fought on behalf of the English during the American revolution from 1775 to 1783.” It was a stunt with a wink, but he saw the danger coming early. A year later, fake accounts were used on a large scale during the US presidential election.

NRC editor in chief René Moerland partially agrees: “The enthusiasm about social media has vanished from suspicion and knowledge about algorithms. At the same time, people still end up in our journalism."

Lara Ankersmit thinks the statement is too negative: “The criticism is justified. But there are of course also nice sides: people who form communities and share things with each other.”

Through the eyes of a futurologist

As a trend watcher at The Future Institute, Justien Marseille is actively involved with developments in the media. An important example of this is the so called 'social blockchain'. With handy icons and apps you can see in detail who contributed what to news and with what purpose. It creates an overview of entangled interests behind a message. "In the future we will give more value to the origin of the channel." Marseille is also seeing a trend emerging: "It will not be long before this traceable data predicts where the news will take place."

Looking back DIT WORDT HET NIEUWS? The entire event is available on YouTube. In 2020, ACED will organize more public programs at the intersection of design, art, journalism and technology.

Photography & Video: Tim Laukens
Text: Floor Schoonebeek