by Jaci Clement, Executive Director, Fair Media Council
What if what’s ailing the news business has nothing to do with the Internet?
A new study by the Pew Research Center for People & the Press shows public distrust of the news media has grown to an all-time high. Not only does 63 percent of the public doubt the accuracy of the news reported, 60 percent believe the news is laden with political bias.
Yet, the media fervently chronicles the rise of the Internet as the culprit behind traditional media’s demise. Technology is blamed for everything from speeding up news cycles to fractionalizing audience share to new competition from social media.
Sounds plausible, right? Not so fast: Interestingly enough, there’s yet to be a cause-and-effect story that ties together eroding credibility and diminishing audiences.
When credibility is your business and you’ve been diagnosed with a massive case of mistrust, it would stand to reason that technology is merely a symptom, not the disease.
Put another way: What business can get away with failing in its core mission and expect to survive?
News has strayed from its fundamental purpose. What once was a public necessity has morphed into meaningless filler and entertaining banter. In fact, the news business has knowingly and willfully exchanged currency, trading in its credibility for likeability. Now that the industry is no longer needful (read: credible) to the public, it needs to be wanted. After all, if people like you, they’ll make time for you.
The strategy became most transparent and best symbolized by taking the chair of Old Iron Pants and bequeathing it to America’s Sweetheart.
But likeability isn’t working. Let’s blame technology.
Ironically, technology actually could be the savior of the news industry – if it knew how to use it. Wrongfully, the industry decided technology equals faster reporting, less time to check facts and no time to put issues into perspective. That hasn’t worked out so well, as anemic print editions, shuttered publications and bleeding financials so attest.
The next cure-all attempt: Package and deliver news so fresh it hasn’t happened yet. Reporting on speculation frees the news to showcase its personality – and it absolves reporters of pesky fact checking.
Instead, the public is moving toward social media, the success of which relies heavily on the public’s ability to create their own circles of trust and share news, opinions and information from people they believe in.
This is the story you won’t see anywhere.