When media organisations and journalists discuss the reasons why journalism as an industry is dying, especially in Australia, plenty of reasons are put forth:
• Physical mastheads aren’t selling like they used to and the old business model they rely on is suffering
• The internet has changed the game as everyone can blog and spread fake news
• The internet giants like Google and Facebook are taking all the advertising money and using content they didn’t pay for
• Millenials refuse to pay for news
And while these are all valid causes for why news organisations aren’t profitable in Australia any more everyone seems to be ignoring another reason why journalism is suffering.
Journalism has lost its credibility and relevance to society.
These clips from The Simpsons are twenty years old and yet they’re still as relevant at representing how the media is viewed by many people.
The Ethics Index run by the Governance Institute of Australia studies Australians’ attitudes and perceptions of ethics across a variety of organisations, occupations and situations. The index is created by asking the public how they view the occupation or sector on a scale of very unethical, somewhat unethical, neither unethical or ethical, somewhat ethical and very ethical. The higher the score the more ethical the occupation was viewed. In its second year of reporting on the Ethics Index, the Governance Institute of Australia reported that in 2017, the media was rated 1% ahead only of the corporate sector (-3%) and the banking and finance sector (-5%).
So not only does the public not trust the media they also don’t believe the occupation is ethical. Which perhaps explains the rise of the “fake news” charge hurled at news that people don’t believe or agree with.
With smart phones and the internet everyone can google and fact check a claim that someone makes now. But journalists are professionally trained on how to decipher information, fact check and then present this information in a way everyone can understand, right? They add value that people should pay for.
Turn on the tv, open a newspaper or go on the web and let’s play a little game –
How many news stories are related to celebrities given plenty of time or space to sell their wares?
How many new stories are infomercials or sponsored content appearing as news?
How many news stories are click bait or listicles that wouldn’t look out of place on Buzzfeed or have just been pulled from a viral story on another popular social media website?
How many news stories are just rehashed or recycled “news” from years past that have been repackaged into an exclusive?
On the 31 July 2017, episode 25 of Media Watch revealed that one such “front page exclusive” published on the 27 July 2017 for the Sunday Telegraph was ten years old!
The Department of Infrastructure and airline sources both confirmed with Media Watch that the “new ban” had been in force for a decade. The Sunday Telegraph could have avoided this if they’d simply checked their facts like all reputable and ethical news organisations (and journalists) are supposed to do.
Rather than slavishly try to emulate social media or popular websites like Buzzfeed, trying to be relevant to younger audiences, perhaps the Australian news media should stop trying to churn out rubbish 24/7 and focus on what it’s supposed to be good at?
All I know is if the news media doesn’t focus on getting back to rebuilding trust and credibility with the public it’s not going to survive.
As aspiring journalists we should keep this in mind every time we write a news story.