Years from now, people will look back upon the present public distrust of journalism and shake their heads in the same way we do when reminded of the scandalous days of "Yellow Journalism."
A recent Gallup Poll concluded, "Americans' distrust in the media hit a new high this year, with 60 percent saying they have little or no trust in the mass media to report the news fully, accurately, and fairly. Distrust is up from the past few years, when Americans were already more negative about the media than they had been in years prior to 2004."
It's our own fault really. Beginning in the late 1980s, we watched with ambivalence as corporate greed and the consolidation of news organizations increasingly took control of not "what to think, but what to think about" -- in other words, journalistic values no longer set the agenda. News, just like in the days of the Penny Press, traffics numbers – news is a commodity not a public service. Journalists lucky enough to survive wave after wave of cuts and layoffs during the past decade have become serfs - overworked and underpaid -- to the landed elites of the media circus.
The recent shake up at news corps' phone tapping debacle highlights the seedier side of an industry in trouble. This isn't to say that good journalism -- fair-minded, accurate, and relevant reportage -- has gone the way of the Dodo bird. There's still a lot of great work being done, but at the local level the news is bleak and getting bleaker.
The $64,000 question is how can the media restore public faith in faithfully and truthfully reporting news?
I am not sure that's the right question to ask anymore. I don't think we can return to the days where individuals were held accountable for the information they reported on, because there is a disconnected between the corporations that run the news operations and the time-honored values that at one time were perceived as the gold standard of this industry. News moves across social media and mobile platforms at an alarming rate.
A 2009 study by The New York Times and the University of California at San Diego found Americans consume 34 GB worth of content a day. In the old days, the journalism of let's say 20 years ago, an average length for a news story would be between 10 to 20 inches or between 350 to 700 words. Today, between new and traditional media, people are exposed to at least 100,000 words, the study concludes.
Here’s the real issue behind all of this "public distrust" in the media. People in this country have increasingly become distrustful of all institutions -- not just the media. We don't trust our leaders, from politics to religion, we don't trust our banks, not our healthcare or educational systems. People, and we can see this in how this upcoming election is shaping up, are becoming much more polarized and paralyzed when it comes to trusting anyone outside their close circles of friends and family.
We feel safer living out our lives virtually on the Internet than we do about walking across the street to meet a new neighbor. Why should we trust the media when we can't trust the institutions it tries to report on?
The "distrust" issue in the media is emblematic of a larger more disconcerting fear embracing this country today. We like to point fingers at the media for being increasingly partisan and opinionated, but we don't know what to do about it?
Recently, I read a story about a professional soccer player who picked up some debris from the playing field during a game. Turned out that the debris was a bomb. My confidence in the veracity of the report fell when the last sentence read that the game resumed after the referees changed their underwear.
I read the story because it was placed at the top of the Yahoo! News page. But who at Yahoo! is accountable for such inaccuracy. I felt duped. In this age of malaise and distrust, it's on us to challenge what passes as truth. Don't trust Rupert Murdock, NBC, Fox, Google or Yahoo to do it for you.