Patrícia Campos Mello watched the results of the U.S. election unfold from São Paulo, Brazil. Sarphan Uzunoğlu followed from Istanbul, Turkey. Nana aba Duncan tuned in from Toronto, Canada, Jakub Górnicki from Warsaw, Poland, and Caroline Jerotich Kimutai from Nairobi, Kenya.
Each work in journalism in their own countries. They followed American publications and networks and their own. And this week, they answered a few questions via email about coverage of America’s election, the issues facing journalists where they live and what’s next for journalists in the U.S.
Here’s what they said.
What are the biggest issues facing journalists in your country?
Patrícia Campos Mello, a reporter at large and columnist at the Brazilian newspaper Folha de São Paulo. She worked as a Washington correspondent from 2006 to 2010 for the newspaper Estado de S. Paulo:
Attacks and intimidation from the government, financial problems of media outlets, access to information.
Nana aba Duncan, a William Southam Journalism Fellow in Canada, the founder of Media Girlfriends, a podcast company and journalism industry network, and a past member of Poynter’s Leadership Academy for Women in Digital Media.
- Diversity in newsrooms, which became an even bigger problem when #BlackLivesMatter erupted in the summer. There seemed to be some scrambling and now there is a settling down while many journalists of color are still dealing with the impact of both BLM and racism in general. We are being called on to help fix the problem, which we want, but there is some stumbling and awkwardness, which we must endure as the change we want to see happens.
- A related topic is the idea of objectivity. My network, CBC, has had intense discussions about reconsidering its journalistic standards and practices to be more inclusive. This is a smart move, and could make CBC even more welcoming to journalists who want to cover underreported communities and locations.
- Lack of jobs, definitely for new journalists but I have been thinking about the excellent journalists who are 5-10 years into their careers. These are the ones who we might lose altogether, which would be a shame for the industry.
Everyone knows the crisis about Turkey’s freedom of expression. But that’s not our only problem. We have a serious problem with professionalism in the journalism industry. Journalists see the sector they work in as a field of political activism. This applies to journalists from both the oppositional and the pro-government journalism community.
It is very difficult to speak on topics such as business models or sustainability with Turkish journalists. We are all crushed under the pressure of the political situation. The state of the economy does not help either. However, our journalism industry needs to invent diverse income models for creating sustainable newsrooms with independent publishing policies.
Many journalists see the transition from journalism to political communication or politics as the solution for their financial troubles. Dozens of journalists enter Parliament as deputies or advisors in each election. But what we need is a journalist type who is a professional, earning money for practicing journalism, and not under the direction of any political party. Currently, the relationship between journalists and politics has deteriorated due to economic and political reasons.
Caroline Jerotich Kimutai, the managing editor for digital at The Standard in Kenya
- Low revenues, which means media houses cannot invest in doing good journalism. Media houses in Kenya are highly dependent on advertising revenue. With dwindling revenue, media houses have to cut costs — budgets for investigative journalism are slashed significantly. The advertising business model is not sustainable and COVID-19 has exposed the under belly of the media. Circulation numbers fell significantly and media houses had to retrench, slash salaries and kill products.
- Lack of proper training for journalists, especially around digital journalism. Technology has disrupted the practice of journalism. Audiences now have options where they can consume content. Media houses have not been agile enough to train their journalists.
What do you think are the biggest issues facing journalists in the U.S.?
I’d say two.
One is to still figuring out how to behave when important public figures want to use the system to destroy the system. How to report — not amplify, but not censor. I think that journalism is disconnecting the way it was done for decades and what its mission is. Once this happens, serving people and protecting democracy should be much easier — even if audiences might be surprised that reporters behave differently. But when we know that we give voice to someone whose only dream is to go against democratic values, we have to change the game, too.
And second, try to listen more and understand audiences. There is a major change happening which is no longer described as liberal/democratic only. If the media want to stay relevant they have to reconnect with different society groups, not be comfortable with those which they already have.
- Lack of objectivity. Some openly took sides in the recently ended presidential election.
- Ignorance about what happens outside the U.S. Their reporting of African countries is full of stereotypes.
- Media houses with bureaus in Kenya do not have local journalists. They send their own from the U.S.
Uzunoğlu, Turkey: I think the main problem in the U.S. is the polarization of the political system in the country. It is very difficult to be a journalist in a political system where citizens are crammed between two candidates. The equal representation of different interest groups in the country becomes almost impossible under existing circumstances. For instance, the fact that the elections are president-oriented and highly personal causes the press to lose their seriousness and informativeness. We also experience a similar problem after the presidential system in Turkey. So the main problem is about the reflections of the political system. Otherwise, I do not see a big industrial problem in the USA. There is no big problem in terms of content diversity, representation of different audiences and technological adaptation.
Campos Mello, Brazil: Hyper-polarization and the risk of becoming politicized, competing against government officials who have big loudspeakers to spread disinformation.
Any advice for covering the political transition we’re about to go through?
Uzunoğlu, Turkey: In my opinion, the biggest mistake that can be made right now may be the narrative that big problems are left behind. Including the Paris Convention, there are concrete steps the United States must take in the area of climate, and especially social rights. Also, issues such as people’s access to medical services, insurance systems and unemployment should be the main focus, especially in the post-pandemic period. If a tabloid method is chosen and this transition period is passed with a media narrative on Trump’s personal life, it will be a great loss. Mainstream politicians love to focus on people. Biden will love it if the process develops like that, because this keeps the policy debate out of sight. Journalists’ duty is to oversee laws and functioning, not personal discussions. No one really cares about what is going to happen with Mr. and Mrs. Trump. Everybody cares about what would be Biden’s policies inside and outside the country and how this transition process will reflect on global/national financial markets and global/national politics.
The election period is over. Now is the time to make Biden accountable. Especially the discourses of the progressive movement in the country should not be ignored. The feeling of relief that can be experienced in the U.S., especially in the mainstream media, may result in the return of Trump or similar far-right-backed figures for not going to the next elections. It is just like the situation in Turkey. Our problems are much bigger than Erdogan’s personality or political choices. These are all systematic problems. Your problems are also way bigger than Trump or his followers.
Kimutai, Kenya: Be objective please (if there is anything like that). Report facts, not opinions.
Górnicki, Poland: We are losing global connections. It’s super important to keep the coverage of what is happening in different countries. especially that many solutions can be found also there.
I think the hardest part will be of course if Donald Trump won’t concede and will do everything to fuel conspiracy theories. Here I see a lot of unknown territories for the media — but just serve and protect. Sounds like the police a bit, maybe, but informing people while limiting damage to democracy on a value level should guide everyone through.
Campos Mello, Brazil: Good luck? Kidding. It will be really challenging, since even the transition itself is being disputed by the outgoing administration …
Duncan, Canada: Drink water and go outside.