I have been using Gallup data for years to hammer home the point that blogging and bloggers are a response to the loss of trust in the professional press, not a cause. Gallup released this year’s data this week, and it continues the trend. Press trust has been slipping since 1976, and today just 47% of Americans have trust in the press.
For the eighth year in a row, more people distrust the press than trust it, but the curious question is why? There’s the obvious issues of bias and the he said/she said matter and others concepts of which Jay Rosen writes, including his brilliant “Church of the Savvy.”
But I think there’s something else going on that is a direct result of the Web and the exposure people are given to other ways of thinking and, most importantly, varieties of journalistic output. People can now see the same “story” in many different forms — as it develops — and that poses a serious problem for those institutions who pretend that theirs is the only voice that matters. Moreover, horizontally-connected consumers can now share their thoughts with each other, which has the unintended consequence of destroying the authority that comes with any single voice. News competition is seen for the silliness that it really is, and all of the hype that professionals have come to believe about ourselves is laid bare for all to see.
Nobody ever mentions anybody else in the world of news gathering unless a copyright claim forces it. Before the Web, this was understandable, because as far as anybody knew, our reporters had all the angles on everything. The idea that the guy across town had it first was irrelevant, so why mention it? As far as our viewers or readers were concerned, we were the font of all knowledge. Besides, we had the time to gather everything we needed anyway. It was the world of the “finished” news product.
But now, with news in real time, everybody can clearly see stories develop across all sources. We know who got it first. We know when something is exclusive. Our hype is just nonsense.
Aggregation has made it possible for news junkies (let’s not underestimate their influence on everybody else) to be simultaneously informed by anyone of their choosing, and in the development of a story, they can “see” many things and ask logical questions, such as:
- why don’t we attribute facts to other outlets?
- why don’t we link to other outlets?
- why don’t we quote other outlets?
- why don’t we curate the work of everybody to bring the audience the whole story?
- why is our “business” more important than the news we’re trying to cover?
Without any of the above, it appears to the average reader or viewer that we’re in it for the competition — to show them that we don’t need anybody else’s efforts — not to serve the information needs of the community. This has the effect of gutting our own predispositions and the very methods by which we operate, and I think it produces a cynicism in the audience that wasn’t there just ten years ago.
The people formerly known as the audience have always been more hip to our ways that we would ever admit, but the Web has further crystallized everything. We can “channel change” to determine for ourselves who has the best coverage, but the truth is we’re only interested in the story, not in any one outlet’s coverage thereof.
News is a process, not a finished product, and the Web is making that perfectly clear these days. Trust in the process is different than trust in the finished product, and this is doubtless impacting overall views of trust in the press. Professionals want to point to the product when examining the matter of trust, but I think the evidence suggests something entirely different. Moreover, I think we’re going to have to address all of this in order to rightly prepare for a future that is much more interested in the process than the finished product.