Qwestion & Answer with Michael Longinow, Ph.D, Professor of Digital Journalism & Media at Biola University

Madelynne Kislovsky September 24, 2020

Qwoted is committed to exploring the current state of the media by speaking to industry leaders and educating future generations of media professionals. What has social media and technological innovation brought to the table? What can we expect for the future of journalism?

Dr. Michael Longinow of Biola University, smiling at the camera in a pink button down.

Dr. Longinow is a professor of Digital Journalism and Media at Biola University in California. His courses include media writing, reporting (intro, mid-level and advanced/investigative, including database), culture of media/reporting and philosophy of media, as well as ethics and religion. Dr. Longinow’s own heritage as well as his studies of religion and culture helped to shape his perspective on teaching journalism. “Everyone’s ethnic background shapes their perspective of others’ cultures…[and] the best journalism takes culture into account,” says Dr. Longinow.

Q: What are you hearing from your students about their ambitions and hopes for the profession?

ML: My students want to make a difference. Those last three words are like a mantra for them. They care about the world and want their work to help those in need. Journalism as I describe it to them (in 70s, 80s and 90s terms) is one way some of them pursue that change. But others are taking journalistic training into non-profits, NGO groups, etc. They want their writing, their photos, their video to be part of the solution, not the problem. But they’re discouraged by the low pay and the economic shake-up that is an ongoing part of the media industries. They are pragmatic. They want to pay the rent, pay off their school loans, and go on vacation occasionally.

Q: What are some of the best practices from journalism’s past that you feel need to be utilized now?

ML: Shoe-leather reporting: that face-to-face, talk to me reporting style. It’s hard and the Web and social media are tempting substitutes. Another best practice is informed listening. Some journalists rush in without doing their homework and think they can figure out the truth of what people really mean in an interview. That’s a ticket to superficial reporting and error. It also leads to racial profiling. Cross-cultural understanding and humility in the face of cultural difference is what journalistic interviewers need today more than ever. The best reporters also look at what’s been written already – newspapers’ archives are often searchable online. Sociologists and anthropologists have studied the patterns of social, political and economic activity (and news) over the last two centuries. Journalists should study that too, and be able to point out when history repeats itself.

Q: Social media has upended the traditional media landscape. One of the great challenges it creates is authenticity and malevolent actors. How do think journalists and reporters should deal with the rising tide of misinformation?

ML: Journalists can fight the rising tide of fake, agenda-driven news and misinformation. But it has to start inside them with a strong moral compass that keeps their “sniff” instinct strong. Fake news has an odor about it. Misinformation can be uncovered by critical thinking. Things are not as they appear, and the best journalists will know that and stay away from the garbage that has become so prevalent on their feeds. Another new temptation is for journalists and reporters to dispense with the “wait, count to 10” instinct on Twitter and other social media. The stuff our president and other prominent people put out without thinking, that’s what journalists must avoid. It’s not naïve, it’s not escapist. It’s wisdom. And journalists today need wisdom.

Q: What advice would you give to aspiring young writers and reporters?

ML: Learn to find news nobody else is finding and tell it with a creative flair. News can’t be boring; it has to matter. Reporters who can make that news a great read with a photo that people can’t turn away from, or a video that they want to replay over and over — those reporters will become the leaders in the marketplace of today and tomorrow. One more tip: don’t let the earthquakes and shakeups in the industry freak you out: news, fact-based storytelling and the kind of accountability that the First Amendment calls for — all of that will be in demand, regardless of whether print goes away or your media group gets bought by a hedge fund. Be willing to launch into independent news work. This could be the solution (or part of it) to seeing real news reporting continue into the 21st century.

Q: What do you see as some of journalism’s biggest potential pitfalls? And what gives you hope for the future of journalism?

ML: Journalists are becoming a despised group in our country. As an industry in general, journalism is in danger of losing its position of respect and trust called for by the First Amendment due to irresponsible, sloppy, or co-opted reporting. The winning back of audiences’ hearts and minds will not be easy. But the hope I have is that the young people coming into our classrooms are eager, creative, and willing to learn the “old-school” principles (e.g. The Elements of Journalism, by Kovach and Rosenstiel) as they adapt to the traditions of best practices in journalism to their grasp of social media and younger audiences.

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