Opinion Article: “Cutting through the noise with explanatory journalism”
When a news story manages to receive attention and reach the general public, they say it “has cut through the noise.” The expression was recently associated with Downing Street’s lockdown parties that infamously breached coronavirus restrictions. UK surveys show that a large share of the public is generally oblivious to issues garnering media attention. Few Brits, for example, seem to have heard about the Windrush scandal that gripped the media for weeks back in 2018, eventually leading to the resignation of then-Home Secretary Amber Rudd.
According to international research, this phenomenon is also observed in Greece. Surprising as it may seem, the majority of Greeks often choose to remain ignorant over being informed, at a rate much higher than the average. However, when addressing the challenges journalism faces in Greece, the discussion tends to revolve almost exclusively around other issues, namely media ownership and the relationship between journalism and politics. Very rarely do we discuss the audience’s news consumption habits. What is the percentage of Greeks, for instance, actively ignoring the war in Ukraine? How many of them are aware of the factors contributing to the energy crisis or the government’s policies and the opposition’s suggestions on how to deal with it? When the public is largely in the dark about current political affairs, civic participation is hindered by citizens’ lack of information, independent media’s financial wellbeing is jeopardised in the face of ever-shrinking audiences and corruption is facilitated, given how investigative journalism needs a large audience to be effective.
Ill-informed citizenry in Greece is also related to the use of social media as a source of news. The Digital News Report reports that 70% of Greeks online get their news via social media, a much higher percentage than most European countries. But research shows that the use of social media as a news source is not necessarily linked to a well-informed public, especially when compared to news consumption from media outlets. One possible explanation for this phenomenon is the inherent design of social media platforms like Facebook, which keep you engaged through various features (comments, likes, videos, alerts), leading to information overload.
In this context of public indifference and information explosion, the news media’s target audience has rapidly diminished. Greek media tends to cover current affairs in a fragmented way and does not seem to invest in expanding their audiences. One way to achieve this would be through explanatory journalism, which is rarely practiced in Greece. The lack of a culture surrounding explanatory journalism became evident when complex issues arose, such as the financial crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic; Reports included numerous specialised terms that were left unexplained and were never linked to past developments, leading to increased audience confusion. Explanatory journalism could “cut through the noise” by educating current audiences on ongoing events and winning back audiences that have ceased to be interested in the news.