A Call to Journalists on Facebook

Samvel Martirosyan

Media researcher

About two months ago, I came across well-known journalist Fareed Zakaria’s page on Facebook and subscribed to it with great pleasure. An enormous amount of readers read, comment on and disseminate his work. 

At some point I started to feel that something was off with Zakaria. Then I understood: he doesn’t wander from group to group on Facebook and doesn’t post news from CNN everywhere. It’s hard to imagine that Zakaria from day till night roams in the “Save Oklahoma”, “Liberate the Great Lakes”, and “We are New Yorkers” groups, sharing links to news about Lady Gaga. But if Zakaria was living in Armenia, I’d be able to picture this more easily.

When Facebook hadn’t yet become a nationwide platform, a few Armenian journalists would publish their articles in blogs. Other bloggers would then read, comment, argue, insult and extol them. At that time, journalists would publish the piece in a blog only to get other peoples’ opinions, and not to increase the number of readers or even those who automatically click on links. The pan-Armenian dilemma of increasing traffic hadn’t yet taken shape as the imperative of our time come to replace our libidos.

I’m writing these lines now but I have the distinct impressions that this was the case about 10 years ago. But no. Traffic was a secondary goal perhaps 2 years ago, while now it distorts not only the information arena, but also the journalist’s profession and role in society.

Let’s try a little experiment: go check out about 10–20 Armenian Facebook groups which are open and have more than 2,000 members. It’s the same situation nearly everywhere. The groups no longer differentiate one from another: local journalists actively post their news outlets’ pieces everywhere — which, by the way, are mainly just news updates and not articles, often not having anything to do with Armenia, just so long as they can get readers. Links to news stories are posted in groups regardless of the name, type or purpose of the group — if only just to get a couple more clicks. 

For example, go to the Facebook environmental group SOS Hrazdan, which is dedicated to the fight against the open-pit mine in this Armenian town. Look at the last items posted there. Fortunately, the environmental activists post items related to the topic. But they are drowned out by a torrent of irrelevant and pointless journalistic pieces. The following news pieces are posted one after another, and posted by journalists no less: “The appearance of Russian spies and those who comprised the Prosperous Armenia Party’s list of election candidates”, “International football: the world’s worst referee, Iturralde González, is preparing to end his career”, and “Press conference with Alexander Margarov and Karen Kocharyan”.

This is but one example which describes nearly the entire media news industry in Armenia and a portion of the main duties of many journalists today. 

If we go back to Zakaria, people go to him to read his work, comment and establish contact. Zakaria is just one example. Modern professional journalists become centers of crystallization which readers are drawn to. Armenian journalism, however, is moving completely in the opposite direction: it tries to come to us all, knocking on our doors several times a day. But unlike Santa Clause, journalists come 365.25 times more often and often with poor quality gifts, as a result of which Armenian journalism is turning into an occupation that wears people out. 

And if more serious, the fault mainly lies with editors, who encourage this competitive race, for which quality is sacrificed for quantity. Since Armenia is in the pre-election period, we can’t even hope that anything will change. Later — perhaps.

Samvel Martirosyan

The views expressed in the column are those of the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of Media.am.

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