What is a Semaform, anyway? And why should you care?
Gina Chua is Semafor's Executive Editor and was previously Reuters' Executive Editor. Sign up to get our stories at semafor.com/newsletters
We’re redesigning the atomic unit of written news, the article.
We’re breaking articles into:
- The News
- The Reporter’s View (or analysis)
- Room For Disagreement (or counterargument)
- The View From (or different perspectives on the topic)
- Notable (or some of the best other writing on the subject)
Let’s dive in.
The news article is a venerable format, designed for more than a century of print newspapers, but its age is showing. Too much news — even some of the best journalism that’s practiced today — so tightly intertwines facts and analysis that readers have trouble telling the two apart. Articles don’t always honestly offer opposing viewpoints. And they’re usually told from a single perspective. All that makes it hard for time-strapped readers to trust — or even understand — the big picture.
So we rebuilt the story form into what we’re calling a Semaform. This format separates the undisputed facts from the reporter’s analysis of those facts, provides different and more global perspectives, and shares strong journalism on the subject from other outlets.
Our goal is to provide more transparency, broader viewpoints, and distilled insights: to give readers more clarity about what we know, what we think, and a window into how others see the subject. We think navigating this complex world requires knowing the facts, and also understanding where others are coming from.
We at Semafor believe that readers are looking for something better, and we’re convinced the Semaform is a step in that direction
Room for Disagreement
More transparency may build more trust, but only for people who actually read our articles. Some very smart journalists, like Nobel Laureate Maria Ressa of the embattled Philippine news organizations Rappler, are much more focused on how news — and misinformation — is disseminated rather than how it’s created.
Their argument is that if your news feed consists only of lies, propaganda, and stories that feed your biases, you’re unlikely to see any stories from Semafor. And so while ours may be a worthy mission, their argument suggests that we’ll really only be able to affect people at the margins.
The View From Places Where The Press is Under Attack
In places where the press isn’t free — and that’s more and more of the world these days — the concern is much less about trust or polarization than about simply being able to access basic facts and information.
The 2022 World Press Freedom Index, published by Reporters Without Borders, classified a record 28 countries as having a “very bad” state of press freedom. It notes, for example, that China has detained 120 journalists, the most in the world. In Afghanistan, the ruling Taliban recently shut down two news outlets for “spreading false propaganda.”
- Three-quarters (76%) of Americans think journalists should strive to give readers all sides of an issue, but only just over half (55%) of journalists surveyed by the Pew Research Institute think the same. And younger journalists reject the notion by a wider margin; 63% of those aged 18 to 29 say all sides do not always deserve equal coverage. It’s a broad gap between the creators and consumers of information that points to some of the reasons for falling trust in media.
- Some people just don’t want to read the news anymore. The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism 2022 Digital News Report notes that the proportion of people who say they sometimes or often avoid news has doubled in both Brazil and the UK over the last five years. Many respondents to their survey say it has a negative effect on their mood. Others say it can be hard to understand or follow, which suggests that media could do a better job of explaining events or putting it in context.
We'd love to get your feedback — on our stories, on the Semaform, on our mission and ambitions, and most of all, about whether we're meeting your needs and how we can do better. Drop me a line at email@example.com