A guest post by Deanne Jessup:
Here in New Zealand we have just had a survey that tells us journalists are the least trusted, and firemen are the most. This got me thinking about why, and what if anything should be done about it?
Imagine the world where most fires put themselves out safely every time. Only we never knew it happened. Instead, firemen turn up, wave spraying hoses and extinguishers, and hit things with their axe-shaped tools. Once the fires are out, we celebrate them as heroes, declaring them wonderful and the most trusted of us all.
Now imagine we found out through the internet that firemen are frauds! Over time we discover it was all a ruse to keep them in work. Would you still trust them? What if it then came out that firemen themselves actually lit most of the fires? Would you still call them when the fires appeared? What if it was a fire that would not extinguish itself? What happens then?
As absurd as this tale is, a variation of it has been playing out every day of the last decade. Journalists have fallen from our graces. Though obvious, my main moral is not ‘the boy who cried wolf’ though it is certainly relevant to ask what happens if we decide we don’t need the media at all.
In my view, this tale parodies the one from ‘the Emperor’s new clothes’. We know we can get our news elsewhere; we know about social media, blogs, and live streams. But like the people of the Emperor’s court who thought they had to pretend, perhaps we are worried what they will do if we point out their nakedness. So instead the absurd situation persists where we pretend their relevance but trust them the least.
The internet has both caused this situation and is constantly changing the nature of it. Initially, it revealed the nakedness of the media, now it is becoming the child from the story pointing loudly and shouting “you have no clothes on!” Technology has radically reshaped the world. We are moving into a new era. Media are trying to reinvent, to clothe themselves in the attires of the day.
The current scramble to ‘change’ shows the media think the reason readership and profitability are both low is because they are printing in the wrong place, rather than the reality that they have been caught printing the wrong thing. There is no road to trust by adopting old practices on new platforms. Media must take to heart that no amount of blogging, social engagement, and digital media will change that we can now see around them.
They must understand that we can now see the truth, often faster than they report it. To become trusted again, they must add value and once again report honestly, openly, and without prejudice or bias. Of course, as they were ‘caught’ naked, a fair question is did they ever?