Lightning Talks by RISJ Fellows on their Research

The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism selects some of the most talented mid-career journalists across the world to undertake in-depth research university related to the media at Oxford University. Fellows came to the International Festival of Journalism to discuss their research projects.

Ching Yee Choo

Ching Yee Choo is a former correspondent in Malaysia who started her journalism career in Australia. Her research has focused on examining ‘journalism as a public service for a consumer’ and how, as news organisations should be held accountable to its shareholders and the public.

Ching Yee Choo expressed worry about how the news media has become “a popularity contest rather than a public service with freedom of expression.” Focusing on the Malaysian media, she explained that Malaysia has progressively tightened state government control of the media, after inheriting a system of media repression during British colonization. The recent Anti-Fake News Bill, passed in 2018, has been “one of the worst crackdowns” is a series of media regulations, suspending three newspapers, one of which has now disappeared. Looking to the U.S. and Europe as case studies, Ching Yee Choo suggested diversifying revenue streams as a means of decreasing the power of the state over news organisations. But in doing so, the consequences may entail less potential for innovative journalism in Malaysia.

Bettina Figl

Bettina Figl is an Austrian journalist working for Weiner Zeitung, a publication founded in 1703, making it the oldest newspaper in the world. As such, it is both small and traditional, leading Bettina Figl to question how similar newsrooms can employ data journalism. Using Germany as a case study and in some ways a role model, she found that data teams in newsroom tend to come from diverse professional backgrounds (such as engineering and physics), but tend to be overwhelming male.

She also added that small newsrooms were often at an advantage as they were

able to implement changes more quickly, and more able to take risks. “It’s not

rocket science” for small newsrooms to produce great data journalism she

concluded, if there is commitment from the top and enthusiasm from the bottom.

Stuart Lau

Stuart Lau used to be a journalist based in Hong Kong and as such, has directed his research on the comparison of the media’s approach China and Hong Kong to covering politics. Stuart Lau drew attention to the death of Nobel Prize Laureate in detention, after campaigning for human rights protection in China. The Chinese media provided his death with little coverage, unlike Hong Kong, where the largest Chinese language and English language publications placed his death on their front pages. However, Stuart Lau has found that censorship, particularly self-censorship, still plays a role in news organizations in Hong Kong. Citing the work of Allen Au, this self-censorship includes balancing reporting in favor of those in power, and “blind belief in government sources.” 

Ntibinyane Ntibinyane

Ntibinyane Ntibinyane is a journalist, editor and co-founder of the INK Centre of Investigative Journalism in Botswana. Describing himself as a ‘hungry and angry reporter’, he recounted his experience of feeling demoralized, uninspired and frustrated with the media establishment. The INK Centre of Investigative Centre thus began as an endeavor to garner more resources and time to do investigative work, particularly that which held figures of power to account. However, funding has been and continued to be a problem, particularly as the Centre does not use advertising revenue. Ntibinyane Ntibinyane has thus continued research at the RISJ into similar centers of investigative journalism across the continent, concluding that as disorganized and poor as they are in terms of profit for much of the time, they have a crucial role in holding power to account across Africa.

Emma-Leena Ovaskainen

Emma -Leena Ovaskainen is a self-described ‘journalist turning into a digital storyteller’, who works in the Finnish media. Her research has been into how news organizations have responded to the proliferation of mobile phones in news. Showing a photo she took in the New York subway where 85% of commuters were using their photos, Emma-Leena Ovaskainen interviewed journalists from publications including the BBC, Quartz and The Pudding. In doing so, she found that journalistic storytelling was upmost in everybody’s minds, as is co-operation; digital journalism is a team endeavor. Central to digital storytelling is keeping the audience’s attention span in mind; she found that 85% of the interactive content of New York Times was touched by users. All of these publications employed visual journalists last year, with the assumption that “visualization builds trust in brands”.  

Ingrid Salvesen

Ingrid Salvesen is a freelance journalist who has written extensively about climate change. She has observed how journalists are often torn between their knowledge on issues such as food insecurity and climate change, and the pressure to report on issues which are proven to engage the public which are not so “abstract and technical”. Ingrid Salvesen took the example of a Guardian campaign in 2015, ‘Keep it in the Ground’, which reported on the most polluting companies in the world in terms of fossil fuels. In doing so, The Guardian pushed for disinvestment from coal, gas and oil, attracting accusations of partisanship and pushing an agenda. But, as Ingrid Salvesen articulated, “if people are used to news organizations taking a stance on issues, why is so much more ‘activistic’ when the subject is climate change, and what does that tell us about our society?” 

Heidi Taksdal Skjeseth

Heidi Taksdal Skjeseth is a Norwegian journalist whose research has focused on the media coverage of Donald Trump since his election campaign. Asking the question of “what we can do as journalists when we meet” a ‘hyper-liar’ in power, she has interviewed a number of key players in the U.S. media about how to address the problem of covering a President who, during his first 40 days in power, publicly issued at least one falsehood or lie every day (New York Times). She found a “more classical approach” of newspapers such as the New York Times and the Washington Post, whose response to Trump has been to strengthen their fact-checking departments, and “continue to do what we did’. The Washington Post has also showed reluctance to explicitly report that Trump has lied. Younger publications, such as Buzzfeed on the other hand, “are adapting more quickly”, and have issues several headlines saying that a statement from Donald Trump had been a lie. Heidi Taksdal Skjeseth concluded by saying that, “when a lie is repeated”, it sticks, and media organizations are rapidly adapting how to address the power of misinformation amongst news consumers.

Olivia Konotey Ahulu