Columbia’s Sheila Coronel: Press Vital to Reconstruction of Democracy

June 28, 2019

In a world where news reports are increasingly questioned amid flourishing misinformation campaigns on social media, ensuring a robust and healthy press is vital to the strengthening of democracy, said Sheila Coronel, Director of Columbia University’s Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism, at a conference held end-May in Chile.

Many countries worldwide are currently in a “democratic crisis,” with leaders who do not believe in democracy or in liberal values such as pluralism and the need to listen to minority groups, she explained during the conference “How investigative journalism is changing to respond to populism, propaganda and misinformation.” In fact many of the new populist leaders are becoming increasingly violent in their political discourse, she noted.

Add to that equation, the power and reach in social media which leads to confusion over which stories are accurate, and that as much as 60% of people believe reporters get paid by their sources “sometimes or very often,” according to the 2019 Columbia Journalism Review Poll. As such, accountability, facts, and evidence-based journalism become all the more important in safeguarding citizens’ rights and checking government power.

Coronel – who began reporting on human rights abuses in the Philippines during the twilight of the Marcos dictatorship - highlighted six ways to build trust, protect journalism and engage audiences:

  1. Guarantee transparency in techniques and sources, for example by publishing reports with full interviews and transcripts.
  2. Ensure rigorous ethics, standards and practices: publishing ethics guidelines, making financing more transparent, employing new tools such as satellite images to provide context, doing official fact checking, and carefully using the power of amplification.
  3. Collaboration: the new paradigm. This allows for networking between reporters, publications and countries to leverage investigation – such as in the case of the Panama Papers.
  4. Embrace diversity. For example, The Marshall Project, a nonprofit news organization that covers the U.S. criminal justice system, states: “We best serve our audience by bringing a variety of experiences and vantage points to bear on the issues we cover. We regard diversity as integral to our overall responsibility.”
  5. Having deep engagement with audience, as people have gone from being passive readers to becoming co-reporters.
  6. Safeguard mutual protection for reporters, particularly in countries where journalists run high risk. Coronel highlighted the work of Forbidden Stories, a Paris-based organization established specifically to continue the work of killed, imprisoned, or otherwise incapacitated journalists.

The conference was part of “The future of journalism” cycle organized by Periodismo UDP, Columbia Journalism School and Columbia Global Centers | Santiago.

To see the Pictures Gallery click here.