The words ‘journalism’ and ‘ever-evolving’ have become analogous due to the continual evolution of the methods in which media is consumed. Within the meritocracy that is social media, everyone has their own handheld amplifier, capable of rendering content that is, for all intents and purposes, news. Information dissemination has never been easier, and the media conglomerate has lost its public stranglehold due to its inability to report news sans-bias. In turn, journalism as we know it finds itself contemplating its identity, mired in a crisis that could threaten a vital piece of Americana: the press room.
A recently published Cision report found that over half of surveyed journalists felt that they have lost the trust of the public, and if said trend continues, the collywobbles are here to stay. Thoughtful introspection remains relatively unexplored in the realm of journalism. Up until now, neither journalistic practice nor journalism research has delved deeply into the parameters and benchmarks of self-analysis. In adopting self-coverage and relationship management, journalism appears to be drawing inspiration from a field close to my heart: Public Relations. The answer to the credibility crisis lies somewhere in that interlinkage.
As a digital native, I’d love to say I have a copper-bottomed answer to the credibility crisis, but a simple solution is nonexistent. The industry as a whole is operating on a dated archetype, and the traditional governance of media is losing its luster. A costly cacophony of errors have resulted in waning trust, and the public is starting to take notice. So how did we arrive here?
The Problem Within
It starts with a harsh reality: objective reporting used to be important but has taken a backseat to the KPI. Too many individuals in the industry have delusions of grandeur, when in reality, objectivity is paramount. To say we’ve lost the plot is an understatement. Like many things in life, the crash of the credibility train can be directly traced to money. When the 1990’s commenced, many newspapers and publications found themselves in financial tumult, leaving them rethinking their content strategy. They wrestled with various revenue-generating methods and ultimately landed on a new approach that relied heavily on a blend of aggression and systemic journalism. Inadvertently, this new method led to work that resembled pieces often found in the editorial section.
A byproduct and fatal flaw of this approach was work that comes across as biased. This form of journalism, indirectly or not, places a significant burden on readers to distinguish between information that can be considered factual and the reporter’s subjective judgment, even if that judgment is well-intentioned and extends beyond established facts. This approach has continued to permeate journalism, but familiarity breeds contempt, especially in younger demographics. There is a budding desire for change.
From my perspective, the supply of ‘accountability journalism’ far outweighs the demand, which is why we’re seeing large for-profit newsrooms struggle to retain subscribers and pay their
downtown midrise leases. The Band-Aid solution, as shortsighted as it may seem, has been to pounce on polarization, which leads to journalism pieces that can accurately be labeled with the “puff” or “hit” prefix. The data, per Pew Research Center, indicates that the number of journalists who actively believe that not all sides are deserving of equal coverage is eye-opening:
Perhaps my gen-Z contemporaries are the driving force in stripping the media conglomerate of its carefree autonomy. The appetite for alternative methods of journalism is noteworthy, with said appetite correlating with age:
Trends are trends, but the above are concerning. The path to restoring trust in journalism isn’t linear and won’t ever be fully solved, but half a loaf is better than no bread. Moving forward, traditionalists will need to embrace dissemination methods that differ from the norm. Those impacted don’t solely include journalists. Gen-Z’ers in the field hold a sort of competitive advantage over those accustomed to antiquated ways. New media is far-reaching, and Web3, closely flanked by artificial intelligence, is about to leave Web2 behind. This proliferation of alternative media introduces fresh perspectives to the realm of journalism.
The influence wielded by citizen journalists and even solitary individuals in producing and sharing information should not be underestimated. Undoubtedly, certain individuals have garnered more influence and credibility than traditional media outlets. However, the question remains as to whether the sheer quantity of their audience and followers necessarily equates to credibility and trustworthiness, a matter of ongoing debate not easily defined by any available metrics. Is the success of alternative dissemination (think Twitter, TikTok, etc) a fluke, or should traditional journalists be once bitten, twice shy?
The restoration of trust in traditional media is a lofty undertaking that needs to be conducted gracefully. The damage that has been done is not irreparable, but it has made a sizable dent by straying far from truth and objectivity. To enhance trust in America’s conventional media, it is crucial that we prioritize precise reporting over sensationalism. Newsrooms must reinstate reporting standards, including rigorous fact-checking and impartiality. It is essential to support and cultivate the field of professional journalism itself instead of continuing to enable these shepherds of sensationalism. Without improvements in media literacy, and a stricter approach to distinguishing between free speech, misinformation, and falsehoods, the situation is unlikely to ameliorate.
“Getting there” is done by embracing vulnerability and making it personal. Attention spans are short, and it’s human nature to forgive. Enlist the average consumer and be genuine about asking for their help. There’s a reason Wikipedia requests donations in a tone rooted in embarrassment. There’s a reason local news is historically trusted more than national news: It feels personal, accessible, dissectable, and raw. Local media teetering on the edge of extinction in many pockets of America can’t be overlooked as a merely unfortunate occurrence. Instead, its repair should be the starting point. Like elections, local happenings have stronger impacts on an individual level. It’s high time we unframe the bigger picture and instead start right here.
The Goal of Authentic Messaging: Takeaways for Your Brand
So why should you care? Like it or not, the credibility crisis impacts everybody, regardless of industry. The erosion of trust in journalism has significant implications on businesses and their reputations. In a world where information spreads rapidly through various channels, media credibility directly affects how your clients are perceived by the public. If you are associated with or rely on media outlets that are perceived as biased or untrustworthy, it can harm brand image and credibility simultaneously.
When the public loses faith in journalism, they become more skeptical of all sources of information, including your messages and content. This can hinder effective communication and engagement with your intended audience, making it challenging to convey messages and values effectively.
The credibility crisis in media is not just a concern for journalists; it’s a pressing issue with implications for your brand image, communication effectiveness, and the overall health of our democracy. Addressing this crisis requires a concerted effort to prioritize accurate reporting, fact-checking, and impartiality in journalism. You can play a role in this process by supporting and promoting responsible journalism and by engaging with your audience in a matter that is as genuine and transparent as possible.
“Forgiveness must be immediate, whether or not a person asks for it. Trust must be rebuilt over time. Trust requires a track record.” -Rick Warren