Trust in the media is tanking, so let's make the painful changes necessary to reverse the trend
By Gary Abernathy
Here are some ways to fix tanking U.S. media trust
From the Poynter Institute three weeks ago: “The United States ranks last in media trust — at 29% — among 92,000 news consumers surveyed in 46 countries, a report released Wednesday found. That’s worse than Poland, worse than the Philippines, worse than Peru.” The story was from the annual digital news report from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at Oxford.
I’ll elaborate on this overall topic at some point, but for now allow me to offer some quick bullet points on what journalists and news organizations need to do to reclaim their trust and respect — both their self-respect and the respect of readers.
The basic rules of journalism were fine until some outlets decided they needed new ones to cover Donald Trump. The new rules backfired. First, quit feeling the need to qualify everything you think isn’t true, as in reporting that someone “claimed without evidence” or “Trump repeated the lie that the election was stolen.” Reporting that someone “claimed” something means, by itself, that it’s a claim, without evidence. No need to add “without evidence.” In the Trump example, good reporting would be, “Trump repeated his allegation that the election was stolen, but there has been no evidence demonstrating that happened, and every court case brought by Trump or his allies has been dismissed.” That’s how to report that. Quit calling people liars, even if you think they are. It makes it appear news organizations have taken sides, or that they think they’re God.
Quit citing social media reaction as a valid representation of public opinion. Too many news stories include random Twitter reactions, i.e. “Twitter was not kind to DeSantis’ edict…” followed by random samples of critical tweets. Or a story will note that someone’s tweet “went viral.” Who cares? Social media is not the real world, and it’s not a scientific poll. Journalists need to quit referencing it.
Late night comedians are not news sources. Newspapers and the Sunday news shows should quit featuring jokes from late night comedy shows, which merely reinforces their own frivolousness.
When going after Republicans, Big Media journalists will level an accusation and ask the hard questions without hiding behind someone else. When Democrats are the targets, journalists will too often attribute the same or similar allegations to the GOP, reporting in terms of “Republicans say…” to make it sound purely partisan, i.e. “Republicans say that Hunter Biden’s laptop contains damaging information relevant to Joe Biden’s campaign.” It’s a trick that allows them to claim they asked the question or pursued the story, when in fact they’re copping out by making it sound like a partisan attack from the GOP. It’s a big, noticeable frequently employed double standard.
Return to the days of being professionally and journalistically detached. The best reporting is unemotional reporting. Get back to hard news and leave the social work and psychoanalysis to the social workers and psychiatrists. Too often these days, news takes a backseat to social outreach, psychotherapy and demonstrating how “woke” reporters or meda outlets are. We’ve always had magazines and periodicals devoted to social work and psychology. That’s good. But these days, our daily newspapers are making those publications unnecessary. We need more objective, unbiased and detached reporting, and less moral crusading.
There’s a reason that more Americans than ever don’t trust the media, and it’s time for the media to stop blaming others and look in the mirror. An effective news media is essential to effective democracy. It’s no coincidence that both are suffering at the same time.
No fans at Olympics will decrease TV viewership
Japan announced that spectators will not be permitted at most Olympic events, and they might as well have asked no one else to watch, either. Watching sporting events take place at empty stadiums or arenas makes the spectacle completely boring. When fans could not attend pro baseball, football or basketball games in the U.S., TV ratings plummeted. It feels like watching a practice session. Too bad.
Despite hoopla, nothing surprising in Trump book flood
Nothing is suprising about the spate of books flooding the market with supposed “insider accounts” or “on the ground reporting” about the Trump presidency. It’s not surprising that we’re being inundated by them, and none of the information contained in any of them, as reported by the media, is surprising, either. It’s the predictable narrative of “we were afraid of what Trump would do” or “Trump was acting crazy,” etc., etc. All designed to out-tabloid each other and sell some books — with the help of most of Big Media, which hated Trump and loves to help these “authors” pile on.
Pleasantly surprised at what comes across the TV antenna
For a while, Lora and I have been using one of those streaming TV services for our live television needs — you know, those online services that pretty much provide everything cable TV offers. But we realized that we watch so little live television, compared to the time we spend on Netflix, Amazon and a couple of other premium apps, that we decided to end the live service. Instead, I bought an indoor antenna so we could keep watching the local broadcast stations, and was pleasantly surprised that we get more than 20 channels that way. Very cool. The antenna is maybe a square foot in size, and it’s flat so you literally just pin or stick it to the wall (ours is hidden behind the TV). I’m surprised and impressed with the quality of the picture. Of course, we live close to Cincinnati now, which helps (the antenna I bought says it has a 65-mile radius), but the digital antenna service is probably better than the picture from cable or streaming. Really sharp and vivid. I recommend it.
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Just read your calm and rational Washington Post column on talking to Trump supporters and truly was inspired by your writing. Then I read the reader responses -- so hateful. So, sending you support and subscribing to your blog. I appreciate you -- Retired newspaper journalist and editor, Colleen Truelsen.