Frans Johansson’s passion for the search for intersections between different cultures and disciplines comes from his early childhood. The son of a Swedish father and a mother of Afro-American and Cherokee origin, he has dedicated his career to studying diversity as a rich source of creativity and innovation. In his book “El efecto Medici” he goes over dozens of examples to illustrate how to start the process of generating new ideas: Widening the points of view of people with varied life experiences of different origin, gender and specialities; enlarging our network of relationships and entering unchartered territory or combining concepts from different disciplines.
For those of us who tend to find references to journalism in books, it is easy to do this in Johansson’s. When he refers to “modern Renaissance man” he clearly describes a journalist as “someone who can see trends and models and incorporate what he knows. He is curious and shows interest in different things. He should be willing to dedicate time to things that are not directly relevant to his work but can be included in it”.
Precisely nowadays, when reality is more complex, interrelated and multi-faceted, media newsrooms are increasingly lacking that “Renaissance” viewpoint that is attentive and capable of adding wisdom, context and memory. There are hardly any reporters left who grew up in an era when there were opportunities to read, converse or wonder about things. An era in which one could dedicate time to acquiring knowledge and experience that could later be used to create better journalism. An epoch when time passed more slowly.
“Time has speeded up a lot”, claimed the historian Juan Pablo Fussi said in an interview with Ion Stegmeier published in Diario de Navarra on September 23rd. “Nowadays we have a sense of swiftness, speed, immediacy and meteoric, fleeting events. More than ever, we live in the flurry of the moment, and what actually happens is of less importance to us. A week is now more like a century”.
Time does not go by any more, it revolves quickly around a present of 24 hours.
“Usefulness makes us better”
At a time when the business model is in crisis, the traditional media seek a digital alternative that allows them to adapt to the new context and be useful to people. Necessarily, they do this by focusing on the end product, the most suitable format, or the most convenient platform. At the same time, the self-proclaimed ‘newsrooms of the future’ are also organised around the products they create and include new technical profiles that can turn them into reality. However, they often leave out an essential ingredient.
“No job can be consciously done if the technical skills it requires are not subordinated to a wider form of culture that is able to drive and cultivate the human spirit in a context of autonomy and give free rein to its curiositas”. Nuccio Ordine described this in “The usefulness of uselessness”, a vigorous defence of curiosity and unfettered knowledge for a particular purpose.
Desperate utilitarianism subjects the exercise of journalism to the manufacture of a product. Newspaper companies also need to find usefulness at the very heart of their work, journalism itself. This can also be more useful than ever nowadays.
As Ordine puts it: “Usefulness makes us better”.
In the present context of uncertainty, rushing around and lack of time, it seems advisable to open our minds and incorporate other profiles and disciplines that enrich our perspective into journalism. I do not mean using them as sources, but including them in work teams from the outset and at every stage: observing, interpreting, understanding, evaluating, deciding, focusing, describing and communicating reality to society.
The university is disciplined
Professor Miguel Martínez Miguélez from the Universidad Simón Bolívar (Caracas ,Venezuela) has studied the intersection of disciplines to enrich perspective for many years. In his article “Transdisciplinariedad y lógica dialéctica” he maintains that each of us was born and has grown up in a particular context with socio-historical coordinates that imply values, beliefs, ideals, ends, purposes, needs, interests, fears, etc. We have also received an education and experienced very particular and personal situations. This is like sitting on a particular seat, with a single point of view, to watch and experience the theatre play called life. As a result, it is only through dialogue and exchanges with other members of the audience — particularly those with opposite views — that we can enrich and complement our perception of reality”.
He takes a swipe at the world of the university because it contributes, as he sees it, to the consolidation of pigeon-holing things in watertight compartments, in zones of comfort and power. He summarises the situation with acuity: “While the university is disciplined, the real problems of the world are undisciplined”.
True, allowing others — outsiders — to participate in an undertaking that we only consider ourselves able to carry out is not an easy task. “We are reticent about working in heterogeneous groups because we tend to stick with people who are like us and think like we do, and avoid those who are different”, Johansson points out. “Apart from this natural tendency, there is another, more practical, reason: it makes everything much easier”.