Is This the Rebirth
of Credibility?

It seems the news has finally arrived.

By Jaci Clement

Who would’ve guessed it’d be cool again to watch the evening news?

Yet that’s what’s been happening across America. And it’s not just that: The numbers show the public is consuming news of all shapes and sizes at unprecedented levels.

Sure, to some degree, we can write that off as something to do in between walking the dog, checking our bank accounts for stimulus funds and spending half a day getting ready for the biggest of deals: A trip to the grocery store, with a mask, gloves, and reusable bags in tow.

But what if there’s more to the story than that? What if the news has finally arrived?

That’s a thought that will perplex my readers who work inside newsrooms. And that, by the way, is a very good thing. Often, it takes too much effort to get the people who work in the news to understand the actual impact of the news. Of course, they are too close to the topic to see it clearly: They’ll read a story, line by line, insisting it’s accurate. What they’ll miss is the tone and the impression created by a story, which is what resonates with the news consumer. For that conversation, we need to speak with upper management or, at the very least, the handful of designated “people who get it” inside the same newsroom. But now that we’re faced with a global pandemic as the news du jour, we’ve been allotted some wiggle room in which to gain perspective.

For close to two decades now, there’s been a widening gap between what the news does and what the public thinks it does. Let’s focus on the latter: Public conversation centers on whether or not the news sensationalizes, whether or not it’s entertaining, whether or not it’s controlled by nefarious forces. Never does the conversation focus on the purpose of the news.

And that’s what’s been missing all these years. To be fair, the news has had a rough ride of late, and a business model to secure the industry’s footing has yet to truly materialize. The tumult has resulted in the letting go of established news reporters, editors, and news directors. Replaced by younger models who focused on technology instead of journalism know-how gave rise to a whole generation of content creators. In the old days, that was known as filler. A fine example of filler: The latest fast-food restaurant opening in your neighborhood. In today’s terms, that’s not filler, but content. Content is designed to refresh the homepage of a news website, in a bid to impress you with up-to-the-moment news. Ultimately, content replaced news. The public reacted accordingly: First it lost respect, and finally, it lost any interest in the news.

That situation caused newsrooms to grow increasingly frustrated with the public, which led newsies to often end their sentences with the phrase “This is god’s work we’re doing here.” OK, let’s go with that. But, hey, not so fast. Because, if you have to tell people that, isn’t there something wrong in your formula in the first place?

It took the fake news trend to push news outlets to invest in ad campaigns explaining the news media’s job is to find the truth. Really? Shouldn’t that have been visible to the naked eye all along?

Credibility is floating to the surface.

Fast forward to today, and we’re at an apex. Not the apex our government officials are currently debating, but an apex for the news industry itself. This is an apex of news which is finally, clearly, consistently, showing the public that the job of journalism, the heart and the soul of the industry, is designed to protect the public by providing necessary information. For many, only the news coverage of Sept. 11 comes close to what’s being seen today. For younger generations, it’s an entirely new phenomenon.

Credibility is floating to the surface.

Oddly, what’s helping is the social distancing we see necessary in today’s local newscasts. As anchors are no longer able to sit side by side, they are therefore no longer able to banter. The banter technique was designed to get the viewing public to think of anchors as people. The public simply found it distracting, at best. At worst, it caused the public to question the anchors’ credibility, as they often opined on a story that just aired.

But now, as newscasters work individually from their own homes, their focus is on getting the news out. That puts the public’s focus on discovering, perhaps for the first time, an anchor’s professionalism. What’s so refreshing about this is the emphasis right now showcases an anchor’s true skill, which is reassuring the public that things are under control, and everything will be fine.

Vanity Fair recently riffed on the age of the influencer coming to pass. Wouldn’t it be grand for that void to be replaced by the age of credibility?

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