The role of quality media is to objectively report the news, to provide a platform for constructive discourse, to help shape public opinion and influence policy for the greater good. Journalists help people make better decisions in their lives by empowering them with the information they need. In an era of social media algorithms, fake news, disinformation and manipulation of facts, editors—beyond overseeing the production of content—are also responsible for mentoring journalists and stewarding their newsrooms.
During EVN Report’s Media Festival, a group of editors representing different media outlets in Armenia were invited to discuss the challenges and opportunities in working in an ever-changing, fluid and unstable environment. The panelists included Karen Harutyunyan, Editor-in-Chief of Civilnet, Ara Tadevosyan, CEO and Co-founder of Mediamax Media Company; Liana Sayadyan, Deputy Editor of Hetq; Gegham Vardanyan, Editor of Media.am; and Tigran Paskevichyan, Editor of Aliq Media.
Major themes of that discussion included the lack of professionalism and standards of responsible journalism in Armenia, navigating and shaping the demands of the market, influencing public discourse at a time of deep divisions in Armenian society, regaining the public’s trust, the danger of echo chambers and financial sustainability.
Society in post-war Armenia is deeply polarized. Uncertainty, serious concerns over national security and sovereignty, the future of Artsakh, the crisis of leadership both in the ruling party and in the opposition have created fault lines among the population. On the other hand, many people, confused and disheartened, having lost trust in the media or overwhelmed by the amount of unverified information, have become apathetic, choosing to “turn off” the news. This is especially true of the younger generation who are exhausted from being subjected to such a volume of information, by sensational news that skews the real issues and social media posts where everyone has an opinion about everything. We forget that these young people have already seen incredible adversity and trauma and by alienating them, we have done a grave disservice to the country.
Խմբագիրների քննարկում. EVN Report մեդիա փառատոն
Հայաստանյան անկախ լրատվամիջոցների ներկայացուցիչ մի խումբ խմբագիրներ «EVN Report մեդիա փառատոն»ի ընթացքում քննարկում են մշտապես փոփոխվող, հեղհեղուկ և անկայուն միջավայրում գործելու մարտահրավերներն ու հնարավորությունները։ Մոդերատոր․ Մարիա Թիթիզյան, EVN Report Բանախոսներ․ — Կարեն Հարությունյան, Civilnet — Արա Թադևոսյան, Mediamax — Լիանա Սայադյան, Hetq — Գեղամ Վարդանյան, Media.am.
- The panel is in Armenian with no subtitles.
It was argued during the discussion that Armenians suffer from an absence of a collective vision or worldview, that we don’t even know what kind of future we envision for Armenia, for Artsakh or for our very existence. What role does the media play in that regard? Do we even have a role at all?
There is a dearth of comprehensive analyses and articles discussing complex themes in the Armenian media market. It is often argued that these kinds of pieces don’t get engagement or traction, that readers won’t spend time reading them. Is it because of fatigue or are Armenian readers simply not interested in the nuances around events in our region and the world? Is it because we live in an era of soundbites or is the Armenian media failing by not publishing well-researched, evidence-based, thoughtful commentary and reports?
So much of the news is presented without context. We have forgotten that context gives meaning to what societies think and do. As editors and journalists, we have a civic duty to report on critical issues in thoughtful and nuanced ways. Instead, the media market is flooded with the unusual, the peculiar––newsworthy when it is the exception and not the norm—attention-grabbing headlines that generate traffic to websites but offer nothing of substance to the reader. It is easier to share the Facebook status of public figures pretending it is news rather than exercise our responsibility in reporting the facts that matter, facts that make a difference.
“We don’t influence and have no influence on society. How do we create influence, and influence political processes? We always think about our ratings and that we need to make compromises to secure those ratings…we should never compromise,” Tigran Paskevichyan of Aliq Media said. In order to create impact, to affect change, to influence the public discourse, we need to seek the truth, not in a philosophical sense, but in a practical, functional manner, and report it fairly and accurately. But are the media in Armenia contributing to constructive political, social narrative-shaping or are we falling victim to populism, propaganda and the race for ratings?
Supply and Demand
What do readers really want and where are they getting their news? What are the choices media outlets are making in terms of what stories to report and how to present them? In an era of hyperconnectivity and dwindling attention spans, how should the media operate? “When only tabloid news was being offered, it shaped the demand,” Liana Sayadyan of Hetq said, adding that the media doesn’t seem to have a guiding mission. “Only a small number of media have taken that burden upon themselves and while the topics we publish might not attract a wide audience, they do have an impact.” Is there a demand for quality journalism or do people only want to consume two-second soundbites and move on?
“When there is no quality media, there is no demand for it; if there is a quality product, there will be a demand,” Karen Harutyunyan of Civilnet said. But is it possible to compete with news sites that publish sensationalized news stories, often out of context and that sometimes publish outright fake news? What about popular bloggers and vloggers who have been able to secure large audiences with their “shocking” revelations? How can we coexist with social media platforms in Armenia, especially Facebook, that are not news sites but are seen by the public as such? Gegham Vardanyan of Media.am said that, “quality content must be popular, we must popularize it; we need to be interesting enough to attract those readers.” While most editors want to remain true to the stated mission of their publications and refuse to cater to the “demands” of readers, Vardanyan argues that it’s imperative to work and engage with readers and diversify content, especially in a highly competitive market.
The media landscape is a reflection of Armenian society –– highly politicized, highly polarized. Many media outlets in Armenia are directly or indirectly funded by political parties or oligarchs. Others rely on foreign grants for survival. None of these is an ideal formula. One of the biggest challenges that media outlets in Armenia face is that they are not financially self-sufficient, Ara Tadevosyan of Mediamax said. “If a media outlet is funded by ‘unknown’ or ‘shady’ sources, then they are serving a master,” he explained. “No one has motivation to become better.”
Is the public ready to support independent media? “Our work, the investigations we do, are time consuming and expensive,” explained Sayadyan. “To expect us to be able to do this without financial support is unrealistic.” The practice of financially supporting the media through reader generated support and subscriptions is still uncommon in Armenia. “Some people are upset about grants, but these same people are not ready to support the media…we tried, but were not successful,” Sayadyan says.
Gegham Vardanyan of Media.am agreed that the tradition of public support for the media is absent. “We have a very small middle class,” he explained. “The more it grows, there is hope for support.”
With a small market and a lot of competition, advertising revenue alone is not realistic for a media organization to thrive. “Advertising is very competitive,” Sayadyan said. “In investigative journalism, it often isn’t even possible to remain ad-free because there is an editorial policy in place [that precludes this]; we will not feature ads from betting or gambling sites and this further ties our hands.” Vardanyan added that responsible media outlets should help advertisers see that placing their ads on sites that share fake news or misinformation impacts their reputation.
Should there be government support for independent media? “If we want to become a democratic society, where the media is the fourth estate and independent and not fulfilling political demands then the government should set up a fund for independent media made up of independent experts,” Karen Harutyunyan of Civilnet argued. “If we want to become a ‘normal’ country, then we need a ‘normal’ media, just as we need an independent judiciary.”
As journalists, editors, members of the media community in Armenia, it is imperative that we confront our own failures. If we give ourselves the right to investigate, write, report and broadcast the issues shaping our lives, then we also need to talk about responsibility. “We had the chance after 2018 to talk about our failures and we didn’t,” Gegham Vardanyan said. “Before 2018, as a community, as those able to shape public opinion, we had a chance to talk about the most painful aspects of our lives – the conflict, war, corruption; corruption within us[…] but today we are failing because we are not ‘talking’ with the public as we should –– with analysis and discussion about issues that go beyond the primitive issue of exposing traitors.”
Responsibility also entails principles which should be at the heart of our profession. The Society of Professional Journalists declares four principles as the foundation of responsible and ethical journalism: seek truth and report it; minimize harm; act independently; be accountable and transparent.
Given the public’s mistrust of journalists and news coverage in general, the time has never been more critical to advocate for and practice responsible journalism.
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