Trusting journalists and the news

BY MATTHEW EVANGELISTA

The climate between the public and political journalism has changed. With a vast number of publications and a more visible publication bias in the minds of readers, the average citizen is having a harder time finding news they can trust.

“Also, online news has muddied the waters (regarding) what they trust and who they can trust,” said Nick Taylor-Vaisey, the national director of The Canadian Association of Journalists.
As the Internet expands, and more news is funneled into it, readers have a wider array of news publications to choose from and a wider array of stories. Publications have begun to use clickbait and selective reporting to entice readers to their websites and Facebook pages.

“Part of the problem is that the popular stories crowd out the unpopular ones,” said Taylor-Vaisey.

He said when a publication posts two stories on Facebook, a sensational story will get more attention and more shares.

Many now distrust traditional journalism. This rising voice is opposed to “legacy media,” a term coined by those opposed to “old guard journalism,” arguing newspapers and broadcast reporting have become too caught up with ratings, sensationalism and disinterest to provide accurate and powerful news.

Instead, a new wave of political reporting is being done by non-journalists who are reporting with a clear, defined bias, after which they tell readers and viewers to form their own opinion. This is in contrast to “old guard journalism,” which, they argue, publishes with clear, cemented bias.

This bias is partly to blame for the decline in readers and viewers.

“I tend to think the accusations of bias are unsubstantiated and overblown,” said Taylor-Vaisey.

However, a joint study done by Cornell and Stanford university professors says different. They studied eight years of President Barrack Obama’s speeches and how they were reported by different publications.

“By encoding bias patterns in a low-rank space we provide an analysis of the structure of political media coverage. This reveals a latent media bias space that aligns surprisingly well with political ideology and outlet type. A linguistic analysis exposes striking differences across these latent dimensions, showing how the different types of media outlets portray different realities even when reporting on the same events.”

Cambridge Member of Parliament Brian May has an inside view of the way political journalism is conducted, specifically its cynicism.

“There needs to be something bad happening, and I’m not suggesting for a second that journalists should take our word for it, but they should also do their due diligence, and I think far too much information is being spread with 140 characters, and long form editorials where you really learn something is really dying away,” said May.

“It’s really interesting, the process, and the narrative that’s being driven, and we understand that it’s a reality but that doesn’t mean we have to like it.”

In part, people believe the legacy media are desperately clutching for dollars as their readership slips.

“I think that cynicism seems to be the default. They’re looking to tear down … and just to say ‘everything’s great and everything’s rosy.’ That’s not going to sell newspapers or drive web traffic,” said May.

“There’s very little in the media of, ‘here’s an evaluation of a program, they said they were going to do this but they’re doing this instead.’ There’s very little of that.”

There’s also been a shift in the way the government communicates, with people being closer to their politicians than ever before thanks to online communications.

“Through the ’80s and through the ’90s, there seemed to be this shift in thinking where government began to think more strategically … That whole shift made government more accountable for what services they were delivering to the public, and what results they were able to achieve with what resources they were allocated,” said Jane Eyers, a Conestoga professor and program co-ordinator of business – community and social services who has 28 years of experience in provincial government.

“We (government) are not just there to serve the public anymore, although that’s still very, very important, but we have to do so in a way that’s financially responsible and accountable to our taxpayers, the people who fund these programs and services,” she said.

By having a more accountable government, people are losing faith in how the press reports on the government whether positively or negatively.

Mainstream media’s reporting on politicians has become more sensational, bordering on gossip.

The public is also frustrated with the lack of consistent reporting on government policy.

“I certainly understand the (public’s) frustration but it’s not some type of blindness or conspiracy, it’s essentially resourcing,” said Taylor-Vaisey.
“This reporting exists, it’s just harder to find.”

In order for the press to survive, readers must trust the news they are presented with to be fair, accurate and unbiased. A loyalty must exist between readers and their news that cannot be lost, and that relationship must be constantly worked on to assure good reporting is conducted and good reporting is read.

About Spoke

Spoke Online is produced weekly during the school year by Conestoga College second-year journalism print students, faculty adviser Christina Jonas and new media technologist Michael Toll.