Pandemic brings needed media self-reflection

Brave new world

Photo by Greg Demarque
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What is in a magazine? From the perspective of us who write and edit the content of Executive, it is a striving for truth, meaning a constant quest and never-ending chase for an elusive public good of the first order. In times of crisis, this striving for truth is often the most valuable contribution that critical thinkers, constructive troublemakers, and professional sceptics can make to a society, but in the immediate moment—it is often thankless. And yet, despite it being known to not be financially rewarding, the real prize of the writer is a long-term and intangible hope to make a difference. All that and more is being confirmed to editors of Executive and our magazine’s entire team during this time of global and local challenge.

In operational terms, Executive Magazine is both fortunate and deeply challenged by the circumstances. We decided in March as the lockdown got underway to reorganize our workflow, shifting from a monthly magazine format to an online-first approach. This has not meant a decrease in our output. On the contrary, these last seven weeks, through the immense efforts of our in-house writers, have seen multiple weekly analyses and the production of not the usual one, but three special report focuses: on Lebanon’s food security, on the impacts of coronavirus, and on what this all means for the insurance industry. 

Moreover, following passionate deliberations and soul searching, we have decided to double up our online content choices by creating a full PDF version of the magazine. You can now pour over Executive pages online as you would go through pages in the print edition, or continue to enjoy our stories in our web format. It goes without saying that our expert online team of one (enhanced by lots of willing collaboration from our wider team) will keep you alert on what we do, through our social media channels on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn

From perspective of professional journalism, a social media presence helps spread our content but does not do much to solve the challenges of providing top, trustworthy content in conjunction with economic viability. Financial pressures come with the territory of journalism and are exacerbating during the coronavirus recession for media organizations around the world, let alone for twice or thrice burdened Lebanon. Executive is not immune to these pressures; our team is working hard in these difficult circumstances to produce the best stories and analyses that we can, knowing that now more than ever is when Lebanon needs committed, investigative, and honest journalism. 

Lebanon’s experience of compounded crises is a painful but essential reconfirmation: A country cannot survive without the people’s quest for truth. This is always thus but never a more obvious and blatant need than at a time when leaders are lost; when they cannot find a way out of misery without turning to the outside and begging strong nations for costly aid; when they are in danger of giving up their people’s sovereignty; when they are unable to climb out of a hole of corruption that they have dug for their political class and for the state.

Talking globally and about moving forward, media and journalism will be in need to reboot after the pandemic. This will involve not just the reignition of the economic engines of media outfits but also a review, rethink, and refocus on conceptual levels. There can be no business as usual under lockdown, even for the online design Picassos, frantic teleworkers, heroes of home office labor, and executive multitaskers that are constantly hopping around between simultaneous Zoom gatherings or confidential Webex board meetings—but going forward, there also will be no business as before. 

The preparation phase for all that new business is commencing now when the seed of the post-corona world is still covered by the calming soil of economic inactivity that has been forced by our medically mandated responses to the pandemic. In the news business—that to some who love it has long been like no other business—the restart of money-making business in a world with more digital media competition over fewer advertising resources will involve taking further and faster steps in digital reengineering of business models, something that has been going on for decades, albeit far too slowly until the 2010s (and with too little vision and lacking of moral compasses throughout).

Media in times of pandemics already have become a hot research topic in online academic journal publishing. Social networking is jumping into a new dimension of its short history, becoming by some observations more socially connective but also more burdensome and intrusive. Observing this and embedding it into a narrative on the problematics of “neoliberal capitalism” (the 21st century edition), American academic Martin Filsfeder asks if we could imagine “social media networks and apps designed for the public good?”

In the social networking realm that is a democratization of what once was the profitable communication domain of yellow journalism and digitization of bad gossiping habits, the reality is now turning against that what was the old normal not even a quarter year ago. Social media has for years “incentivized controversy, outrage, and half-baked contrarianism” with the effect that there were many people who “correctly internalized those incentives,” but this is changing, says Andrew Marantz, a tech and social media journalist at The New Yorker. During the coronavirus pandemic, what was seen as good in terms of clicks—getting people’s attention at any price, under total disregard of ethics—even if it was a “bad tweet, morally speaking” is no longer just repulsive from the quaint observation point of looking for truth in media but potentially destructive of lives (it always was, but in a more indirect and less alarming way). 

It would be idiotic to believe that this destructiveness of lies and attention will eliminate the human temptations to tell lies or suddenly liquidate and reverse the patterns of propaganda journalism and deception that have been embedded for ages in media cultures of tyrannies, totalitarian states, revolutionary societies, and proud republics that are self-proclaimed homes of their peoples. For all who care about journalism and communication while living in imperfect societies in the best of all available worlds, this time of crisis is proof of the need to strive for truth. 

It is an urgent time us at Executive Magazine to keep our deception detectors on high alert, and also fact-check our own assumptions and all narratives as diligently as we can. For publishers, media types, writers, visualizers, bloggers, online influencers, and communicators of all stripes, it is time to rethink business and coverages. In the honorable profession of journalism, this virus-induced chance for personal reflection on existential essentials deserves to be a time of return to emphasizing media ethics and refocus professional journalism, remembering that we should and can be indispensable contrarian cogs in the digital machines of post-pandemic economic and social life.     

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