Journalist Maria Ressa calls for “creative destruction” of the world as we knew it

Geetha Srimathi Sreenivasan reports on a live virtual discussion organised by the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) on the impacts of the pandemic on journalism

Maria Ressa, a Phillippines-based journalist and CEO of news website Rappler, who was recently convicted under cyber libel laws, said that the very same pillars – journalism, technology, and community – that Rappler was created on became stronger when it came under legal attacks from the Phillippian government.

Commenting on the social media-enabled collapse of democracy that predated COVID-19, Ressa said while participating in a virtual panel discussion, “It’s creative destruction. The world we knew has been destroyed and we have to now create it.”

Jay Rosen, Media Critic, New York University, Emily Bell, Director, Tow Center for Digital Journalism, Columbia University, and Dr. Julie Posetti, Global Director of Research, ICFJ also participated in the panel discussion on October 26 – the first one to be held after the publication of ICFJ’s report “Journalism and the Pandemic – A Global Snapshot of Impacts.”

The report compiled from a global survey of 1,406 English-speaking journalists across 125 countries captures the psychological & financial impacts on journalists, increased online harassment, and the role of social media platforms in spreading disinformation.

Ressa was convicted in June for an eight-year-old report published in Rappler, and has been fighting legal battles when eleven charges were pressed against her. She said, “Nietzsche was right. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, in the sense that we had already been through the ringer in 2018.”

“We dropped our advertisers by 49 percent by April of 2018 so we were actually forced to find another business model which was based on data and tech.”

The report reflected a decline in revenue of news organizations during COVID-19. As much as 17 percent of the survey respondents reported a loss of more than 75 percent of their organizations’ revenue.

Rosen said that instead of subscription models, a better approach would be to establish membership-based news organizations, which lets people join the cause of an organization by believing in its work and financially support digital media to take down pay walls, and be less dependent on advertisements.

As a sign of optimism, 43 percent of the survey respondents said that they felt an increase in audience trust in their journalism. Ressa said that this is an incredible time for communities rallying behind in terms of both content and shared values.

 “We know this firsthand. Our legal bills are exponential in scope and our community has actually come in [to help] and crowd funding has helped plug some of that,” she said.

Meanwhile, Rosen pointed out a couple more reasons to be optimistic about the future of journalism. One is, “there’s something visceral about young people’s commitment to journalism, because they don’t have the illusion that this is a lucrative or a stable field. They know it’s kind of in crisis and they’re drawn to it.”

The other reason being, “the illusion that journalism can go in alone is over.” Rosen said that people from every other evidence-based profession have to worry about attacks on journalists.

Posetti pointed out an increasing need to hold social media platforms accountable within journalism as the fundamental principle of speaking truth to power relates directly to the tech companies even if they financially contribute to journalism in some way.

To deal with the problems of social media and technology, which enable a “fire hose of falsehood” and insidious manipulation, Ressa suggested that it is important to work with them and, at the same time, push for an end to their impunity.

“We can’t do a thing until we fix the poison that’s coming in,” said Ressa.

Here’s the report on the global survey by ICFJ.

Watch the discussion –