Wick Communications

Politicians, lawyers, journalists

In journalism on February 4, 2016 at 4:09 pm

Screen Shot 2016-02-04 at 10.03.58 AMWell, that hurts.

The fact is, a lot of people don’t trust us. This will come as no shock to anyone reading these words. It’s been a long time coming and the slide in public confidence has been persistent. Why would you say that is?

Gallup research showed last year that only four in 10 Americans have “a great deal” or “a fair amount” of trust that mass media will report fully and accurately the events of the day. That is down from 54 percent as late as 2003. That same research shows that it’s even worse among those under 50 and worse still for Republicans.

Regular Kicker readers won’t be surprised to learn I have a theory.

Confidence in all institutions is down. Increasingly, we don’t trust the government, the military, the postal service or the local power company. In fact, the trajectory of falling confidence in all those sectors is eerily similar.

That is partly due to misinformation spread on social media. People continue to believe everything they read on the Internet. If some yahoo on Yahoo says you can’t trust “mainstream media,” well there you go. The same is true for local governments that are continually strafed by half-truths on blogs and in newspaper comment sections.

Politicians make it worse. Blaming the messenger has become political SOP, particularly in the GOP, from Wabash to Washington. An embattled politician will invariably blame the press. There is some kind of mathematical formula, I swear it. …

Collectively, we made it much worse. There have been numerable scandals in our profession. Reporters faking quotes, making up sources, embellishing scenes, pretending to be objective. Just this week, we learned a contributor for Glenn Greenwald’s The Intercept went so far as to make up phony email accounts to look like sources he never really contacted. (Wouldn’t it just be easier to, you know, do your job?)

But more than the scandals, the change in what is acceptable business practice has hurt our noble profession. Legitimate news organizations now spend as much effort aggregating clickbait as they do gathering information. On television, pundits have almost completely replaced staid journalistic voices like Walter Cronkite. Turn on CNN or FOX or MSNBC at any time of the day or night and you are most likely to see a panel of people in split screen speculating about something they really know nothing about.

Now look at that Family Feud screenshot again. While respondents don’t like politicians, car salesmen, lawyers or journalists as a whole, I’d be willing to bet individual respondents like their local politician, the guy he bought the Plymouth from, the woman who wrote the family will, and the editor at the local paper. That’s because most of us in these maligned professions are honest, thoughtful, hard-working and mean well. Perhaps our salvation lies in these smaller relationships rather than bigger trends.

Clay

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