Journalism and impact: strange bedfellows?

Wednesdays panel discussion on the measurement of impact in journalism started off with an introduction by Eric Karstens emphasizing the difference between the definition of impact in marketing and journalism. The moderator referred to marketing specialists thinking in military terms like a bullet hitting a target. This is, however, when it comes down to journalism, not that straightforward. Karstens introduced 4 levels of impact first describing the quotation, reminding journalists of the geographical importance of the project. He continued with the quantity of the journalistic piece measured by the amount of sold copies and hits, moving on to user engagement and concluding with the real world consequences, such as politicians being ousted of their office because of a journalistic investigation.

Wilfried Ruetten, director at the European Journalism centre, talked about the notion of impact for journalists. “Everybody would like to have a tool to measure impact,” he says, “which is why we came up with a new solution with setting up a grant scheme.”

The discussion now turned towards a detailed outline of four successful projects. Starting with Stefano Liberti, the author of The Dark Side of the Italian Tomato. The web documentary shows the unfair competition between the European and Ghanaian tomato farmers. “The project should have had a better communication strategy, something that was not done at the time,” he says, “It was a good learning point as journalists to focus more on this kind of training in the future.”

The second presented web documentary is called Seediversity, introduced by Elisabetta Tola, co-founder of Formicablu. The documentary was published on the World Food day, together with the report from the IFO that showed the amount of food produced by small farming businesses. “The project shows a way of bringing data together in particular kind of maps,” she says, “long term results were seen after the release when more people got interested in this kind of format for using it in their own regions.”

Pierre Morel, a French freelance photojournalist, talked about his project Rebuilding Haiti where the aftermath of the 2010 Haiti earthquake is told through a combination of pictures and text, concluded with a news game. The web page saw an increase of impact after realising some communication skills such as the publishing of press articles and attending conferences & contests.

Emanuele Bompan, geographer and journalist, finally presented Follow the money, a website on the spending of development money in Italy. The readers were able to make their own choices in how to spend the money through a game after which the results were eventually given to the Italian minister of Foreign Affairs. Bompan says they tried to increase their popularity in different ways by for example showing it at schools and using different social media platforms.

The event was rounded up by Stijn Debrouwere who discussed how journalisms impact is often described. “Asking journalists what impact their work has, is almost sacrilegious, because they are asked to take a stance.” According to Debrouwere a measurement of impact is a potential problem on its own which is currently covered by several academics such as the University of south California.

Daria Sukharchuk and Anneloes Viskil