The term ‘post-truth’ describes the disturbing trend whereby emotional appeals are becoming more important in shaping public opinion than facts. The spreading of so-called “fake news” is so prevalent that 'post-truth' was named the 2016 word of the year by Oxford Dictionaries.
In such an environment, it’s more important than ever to recognise the efforts of investigative journalists who continue to go above and beyond their call of duty to seek out the facts. It’s especially important in industries where brands are becoming storytellers in their own right, and where the lines between journalism and marketing are becoming blurred.
Supporting such independent journalism is the reason WWL sponsors the Seahorse Club’s Environmental Journalist of the Year award, part of the single biggest event of its kind for the maritime and logistics trade press. The most recent winner of the award was Carly Fields for her story Melted Away, published in Breakbulk magazine last year.
A focus on facts
Her feature examined demand for multipurpose, heavylift and breakbulk vessel transits of the Northern Sea Route, which was originally proposed as a time and cost saving route from Asia to Europe.
“I’ve covered the Northern Sea Route a few times as part of my work with the marine insurer Allianz and I’ve found it increasingly fascinating that shipping lines are willing to operate in such a high risk area to save a few pennies, when they are actively avoiding other high risk areas such as war zones and areas known for piracy,” says Carly.
“Although the threat in the Northern Sea Route isn’t as physical as the other examples, it’s remote, charts are outdated if available at all, GPS coverage is weak and the emergency support isn’t close to hand should something go wrong.”
It was that critical line of thinking that made Carly question whether shipping lines are saving enough money to warrant use of the route. She decided to investigate the economics to find out for herself.
First things first, she approached analyst Peter Grønsedt from Copenhagen Business School who was willing to crunch some numbers for her. “I owe him a debt of gratitude as it’s those hard figures that make the article stand on its own two feet. The result was something a little bit different to what’s been written before about the Northern Sea Route,” she says.
The four-page feature showed that although the shipping route shaves 4,500 miles off a journey from East Asia to Northern Europe, the crash in crude oil rates (which led to less oil exploration business and lower fuel rates) means shipping lines have scaled back plans to utilise the route.
A welcome surprise
For Carly, the award came as a welcome surprise after 17 years writing and editing in the maritime industry.
“It’s an industry that can be closed and secretive which makes our jobs as journalists that much harder, so the recognition is really appreciated. The Seahorse Club Awards have become something of an institution in the transport and logistics journalism field. A small group of people put a lot of time and effort into them and bring sponsors, such as WWL, along for the journey,” she says.
A clear dividing line
When it comes to journalism in the post-truth era, Carly believes company-produced content, such as this article you’re reading right now, must be clearly marked to distinguish it from independent journalism.
“Everyone is free to tell their own story and that applies to companies and journalists alike,” she says. “If it’s promotional, don’t try and make out that the article is unbiased; keep news for reporting of facts, features for broader insight based on industry views, editorials for opinion and marketing for promotion. It seems simple to me, but sadly those rules aren’t always followed and the lines between them are increasingly blurred by hybrid offerings.”
But she also believes it’s important that people learn to check facts for themselves. Her six-year-old son often returns from school sure of a fact that a friend or teacher has told him. Carly believes the conversation and research activity that follows is something everyone should learn to do by default. “We end up searching for a trustworthy source together. If everyone did that first before spreading stories, fake news wouldn’t be a problem.”
Melting away appeared in Breakbulk magazine's issue 2, 2016. To read the story, click here.
To visit The Seahorse Club online, click here.