For posterity, the wonderful Jen Carlberg has supplied this report on the closing keynote of the MeCCSA conference 2017. Until next year.
Professor Barbie Zelizer, the Raymond Williams Professor of Communication at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School, jovially thanked listeners for attending her keynote, ‘Resetting journalism in the Aftermath of Brexit and Trump’, although it represented MeCCSA’s ‘graveyard shift’. Zelizer’s incisive remarks concerning the profound moments of crisis facing UK and US journalism, however, were far from somnolent. Coverage of Brexit and Trump reveal not only that journalists of both nations have failed to serve the public, but also an urgent need to find critical and ‘evolving answers to what journalism is [really] for’.
Zelizer drew upon ‘history’ in her analysis, especially journalistic practices of the 1940s/1950s. Risk-avoidance, uncritical acceptance of dogma, degradation of facts, normalisation of outrage, and the pursuit of value-free coverage pervaded Cold War journalism, and these same practices characterise the coverage of both Trump and Brexit. This is a parallel, Zelizer warns, that does not bode well. In constructing false equivalences, qualifying its observations, and engaging in the unhelpful habits of euphemism, timidity, and deference, journalism again shrinks ‘to the smallest possible version of itself’.
Rather than cowering behind rhetoric of the ‘Anglo-American imaginary’, one long connecting US and UK journalistic practices, Zelizer charges contemporary journalists must ‘double down’ and listen actively in order to recover what was missed. After all, Zelizer warns, ‘neither Trump nor Brexit is an anomaly’, and the public’s current distaste for elite industries includes journalism.