By Casey Bukro
Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists
This is the time of year for predictions, wishful thinking and delusional forecasts for the coming year, 2021.
The 2020 covid-19 pandemic took the globe largely by surprise, showing how puny human prognostication abilities really are and should be humbling, although some scientists were saying for years that the world is ripe for a pandemic. But who was listening? It is the fate of Cassandras to be ignored.
Despite that track record, people keep trying. So here’s a look at some of those predictions for next year, and beyond. Some of them propose action that carries major ethical implications.
Nieman Journalism Lab asked some of the smartest people it knows to predict what 2021 will bring for the future of journalism. It lists 10 entries. I’ll pick one.
Masuma Ahuja, is author of “Girlhood,” a book about the lives of young girls around the world.
The pandemic, writes Ahuja, “taught us how interconnected our world is, as we watched a virus slowly and then very quickly sweep across the planet. It also showed us how universal a lot of our core human experiences are: fear and sickness, loss and grief, isolation and longing.”
Conversations began, she says, about systemic racism, injustice and oppression.
“I hope 2021 brings with it a shift in power structures in journalism,” she writes, toward “a meaningful investment in building institutions that invest in Black and brown and Indigenous and immigrant and non-Western voices, in creating pipelines and opportunities for those who have been systemically disempowered.”
Poynter Institute’s predictions for 2021 included thoughts by Samantha Ragland, a faculty member and director of the Leadership Academy for Women in Media at Poynter.
“I believe 2021 will be the year of the journalist,” writes Ragland, which would be a surprising and welcome change for a profession that has been under attack by President Trump as “fake news” and the “enemy of the people.”
“2021 is the year for journalists from all sides of the newsroom to step into the cultural challenge that is a white-washed, male-dominated media industry and walk into a cultural change,” writes Ragland.
Ragland echoes some of Ahuja’s sentiments for diversity and inclusion in media, a worthy goal that might clash with the powerful white, male media power structure seen as an obstacle to reaching that goal. It might be tough convincing well-paid executives to step aside as part of a cultural shift and vacate their corporate suites.
Think back to the time when the environmental protection became a global issue. Media executives often saw that development as anti-business, a threat to the economy and to advertising. It becomes an issue of self-interest. Something noble-sounding becomes something to fight over.
Covid, vaccines and self-protection against the pandemic are likely to be issues of public concern well into 2021 and beyond.
“Seeing people wearing masks in everyday life is now the norm throughout much of the country,” writes Jillian Wilson in HuffPost, underscoring the importance of wearing a mask in public or close settings. Mask-wearing, hand-washing and social distancing remain key to curbing the viral spread.
But now with vaccines to combat the virus, how long will mask-wearing be needed?
Wilson quotes Marybeth Sexton, assistant professor of infectious diseases at Atlanta’s Emory University School of Medicine: “I think we should be prepared to wear masks for the foreseeable future, probably for the next year, certainly into that third quarter of 2021 when they expect to really be able to vaccinate large numbers of the general public.”
But the pandemic will end, says Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “It’s going to depend on our success in vaccinating what I would say is an overwhelming majority of the population, between 70 to 85 percent,” he said. “If we can do that, by mid to end of the summer, I think as we get into fall, October, November, times like that, I think we will be very close to a degree of normality.”
Another way of looking at the health of the nation is global approval ratings.
The Gallup poll reports that approval ratings of the United States from countries around the world dipped to an historic low in 2020, under the Trump presidency. Data collected in 29 countries showed median U.S. approval dropped to 18% from 22% in 2017. Such scores are watched by the American business community to gauge the nation’s global reputation, which is expected to take years to recover.
Then there is the workplace, on the human level. A Pew Research Center survey shows that the abrupt closure of many offices and workplaces this past spring ushered in a new era of remote work for millions of employed Americans.
This “may portend a significant shift in the way a large segment of the workforce operates in the future,” says Pew.
Before the pandemic, most workers said they rarely or never teleworked. “Now, 71% of those workers are doing their job from home all or most of the time,” said Pew. And more than half say, given a choice, they would want to keep working from home even after the pandemic.
The research also revealed a clear class divide between workers who can and cannot telework. Sixty-two percent of workers with a bachelor’s degree or more education say their work can be done from home, compared with 23% of those without a four-year college degree.
“While a majority of upper-income workers can do their work from home, most lower- and middle-income workers cannot,” said the report.
Finally, there are predictions for 2021 outdoor living trends.
Being stuck at home for 10 months forced Americans to find new ways to enjoy their dwellings, said a report in veranda.com. Many Americans fled to their back yards.
“Our backyards, patios and gardens have dutifully served greater purposes than ever before” as office spaces, happy hour haunts, gyms and other refuges became off-limits because of the pandemic safety precautions, said Veranda. Fugitives from the pandemic are turning to the beauty of nature for enjoyment and inspiration.
“We’re expecting the popularity of outdoor living spaces to continue to grow in 2021, not only in light of covid-19, but also as many of us pursue more sustainable lifestyles and seek to achieve greater health, both mentally and physically, from home. Plus, our outdoor spaces are sure to remain hot spots for our social gatherings for quite some time – even during the winter.”
The report predicts the use of outdoor living spaces for year-round use, residential gardens for city-dwellers and an interest in earthworms and compost.
The Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists was founded in 2001 by the Chicago Headline Club (Chicago Professional Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists) and Loyola University Chicago Center for Ethics and Social Justice. It partnered with the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in 2013. It is a free service.
Professional Journalists are invited to contact the Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists for guidance on ethics. Call 866-DILEMMA or ethicsadvicelineforjournalists.org.