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article imageIn mainstream media we trust? Special

By Chris Hogg     May 12, 2009 in Business
Polls show a decline in trust levels of the mainstream media. Some journalists say media empires aren't pushing their employees hard enough. New media tools are changing journalism, and critics say the mainstream press needs to evolve.
This article is the second in a three-part series discussing the future of journalism and credibility of both mainstream and citizen journalism. You may also be interested in Part 1 of this series, titled Did the Internet kill journalism? Part 3 of the series, titled "Is there credibility in citizen journalism?" can be found here. You can also set a DigitalJournal.com News Alert for future coverage on citizen journalism
"We’re clearly now seeing a path to the end of the printed daily newspapers — a trend that is escalating much faster than we had anticipated." That kind of jabbing statement (opens in PDF) came from Jeffrey I. Cole, communication professor at the University of Southern California. Some might call it hyperbole, others may call it prescient.
According to the Pew Research Center's State of the News Media 2009 report, power is shifting to the individual journalist and away from journalistic institutions. Publications are seeing declines in readership as email, blogs and social media have given voice to individual writers.
Reading a newspaper
Reading a newspaper
DigitalJournal.com
As the Pew Research Center reports, "...journalists who have left legacy news organizations are attracting funding to create their own websites. It would be a mistake to overstate the movement at this point. But for a few journalists at least, there are signs of a new prospect: individual journalists, funded by a mix of sources, offering expert coverage to many places."
So how does this growing trend position the future of news? According to the Pew Research Center, the future of journalism could herald the rise of better reporting. It reports a varied amount of individual voices make for a more comprehensive (and possibly more accurate) collective.
With more people engaged in the news-gathering process, the issue of credibility and trust comes front and center. Polls show readers are increasingly distrustful of mainstream reporters, while mainstream reporters are skeptical when it comes to citizen-generated media.
According to an Edelman survey, "Trust in nearly every type of news outlet and spokesperson is down from last year among our 18-country tracking audience of 35-to-64-year-olds." More specifically, trust in TV news coverage dropped from 49 per cent to 36 per cent, and trust in newspaper articles fell from 47 per cent to 34 per cent.

Mistrusting the mainstream media

Dan Gillmor
Dan Gillmor is a citizen journalist's mentor: he runs the Knight Center. authors books on grassroots journalism and speaks around the world on citizen media
Courtesy Dan Gillmor
"There are trust levels that vary person to person, site to site, organization to organization," says Dan Gillmor, director of the Center for Citizen Media, a joint project with ASU Harvard University's Berkman Center for Internet & Society. Gillmor is also director of the Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship at Arizona State University.
"There are bloggers whom I trust more than a journalism organization covering the same topic. On balance, I trust most news organizations more than a random blogger I have no knowledge of."
In a phone interview with DigitalJournal.com, Gillmor is critical of the mainstream media, especially in the United States. "Over time we have been confronted with an industry, a trade, that has much more tolerance for its own failures than for other people's," he says. "It gets things wrong on a fundamental level too often that it makes us uncomfortable."
Gillmor cites the run-up to the Iraq war as an example of media failure. He also believes more journalists should have recognized the world was heading for an economic catastrophe and done a better job of informing the public. Gillmor says journalism-as-stenography is the root of many problems in the media world today.
"The still-prevalent method of journalism in much of Washington reporting is that if you get a Democrat to say something, a Republican to say something, the truth is somewhere in the middle," he says. "That is not journalism -- that is stenography. I think journalists should report on what one said, what the other said, and then what the truth actually is. If the idea is that there are two equal and opposing sides to everything, that is completely ridiculous. However that is often how journalism is practiced."
Gillmor also says reporters are often afraid to use language that is accurate when describing contentious issues, and that makes for weak journalism.
"Right now there is a debate in the U.S., long overdue, about torture," he says. "Except the traditional journalism organizations flatly refuse to call torture, torture. Even though the U.S. runs war crimes trials against people who use exactly the same techniques. It’s not enhanced interrogation techniques, it’s torture. It makes me crazy to see that journalists avoid using a word when in fact it is accurate."
With all of his criticism against the mainstream press, Gillmor doesn't want to see it vanish. "Certainly there are a number of people who are fed-up and saddened by the failures they see in traditional journalism," he says. "I feel that way frequently myself, but I didn’t give up on it. I have constant heartburn over things I see as failures in traditional journalism. I also don’t want to see it disappear. I want to help develop an ecosystem."
Jack Kapica
Jack Kapica is a well-respected Canadian journalist with almost 40 years experience. He has been a staff writer and editor for The Gazette in Montreal and the Canadian national newspaper, the Globe and Mail. Kapica is now an advisor to DigitalJournal.com
Photo by DigitalJournal.com
A news outlet's political bent can also be seen as fuel for a biased fire, said Jack Kapica, a former Globe & Mail journalist and current writer and editorial advisor for DigitalJournal.com. Kapica believes Canadian national newscasts are not as objectionable as their American counterparts. "In Canada we tend to have a much better opinion of the media. We do not, after all, have Fox News or MSNBC, each banging a drum for a clear political viewpoint."
Brandon McPhail, a DigitalJournal.com reader who recently took part in an informal website poll, agrees. "The mainstream media in North America is far too attached to political parties," McPhail says. "Online sources are far better, they only have to worry about money coming in from T-shirt banners and poker sites."
McPhail teaches teenagers aged 13 to 14 who he says are often more informed than their parents about current events.
"These kids' have parents who have been guided through their entire lives being told what's what by a few Canadian and American news sources," saysMcPhail in a follow-up conversation by email. "[Now], they're having their beliefs challenged by their children who have thousands of sources, and points of view on thousands of issues, just one Google away."
Reading a newspaper
A man reads a newspaper in downtown Toronto
Photo by DigitalJournal.com
Stephen Dohnberg, a journalist who works both as a mainstream and citizen reporter, says traditional news organizations aren't pushing people hard enough.
"Some citizen journalists have had experiences in mainstream newsrooms where the abject laziness and lack of zeal in one's coworkers can often make the head spin," he said in an email interview. "For example, in news and talk radio -- which should be a hive of activity and people utilizing resources and skills -- I have witnessed multiple instances where one phone call is considered research; where people have been promoted to the position of News Director despite having literally zero news-gathering or field experience; where rip-and-read CP text, lightly rewritten, is the majority of the news package...and people with ambition are looked at with suspicion. This happens more than one can imagine."
With trust issues arising against the mainstream press, some pundits wonder if citizen journalism is going to be a serious threat to traditional journalism. While many agree traditional journalists need to evolve, not everyone is convinced citizen journalism is working just yet.

This article is the second in a 3-part series on the changing face of media. Part 1 of this series, titled "Did the Internet kill journalism?" can be found here. Part 3 of the series, titled "Is there credibility in citizen journalism?" can be found here. You can also set a DigitalJournal.com News Alert for future coverage on citizen journalism
More about Newspapers, Mainstream media, Citizen journalism