Skip to main content

Davis Journal

Tom’s Tomes: The role of the media

Jun 17, 2021 01:42PM ● By Tom Haraldsen

Here’s a sad but true fact: Trust in traditional media has declined to an all-time low. And here’s why that matters. Faith in society’s central institutions, especially in government and the media, is the glue that holds society together. That glue has been visibly dissolving for the past decade, and now it seemingly has disappeared for millions of Americans.

According to a study done by research firm Edelman’s, fewer than half of all Americans have trust in traditional media, and trust in social media has hit an all-time low of 27 percent. Certainly the events of the past two years during the presidential election didn’t help the “trust” factor.

Here’s more discouraging information according to national surveys:

– 56 percent of Americans agree with the statement that “journalists and reporters are purposely trying to mislead people by saying things they know are false or gross exaggerations.”

– 58 percent think that “most news organizations are more concerned with supporting an ideology or political position than with informing the public.”

– Following Joe Biden’s victory in November, 57 percent of Democrats said they trusted the media, while only 18 percent of Republicans did. Before you jump on the bandwagon and say this is all because of Donald Trump supporters who felt he was cheated out of the election and who have listened to his belittling of the news media for four-plus years, this is not a Trump issue alone. These numbers actually reflect echoes across the globe. There is a huge mistrust in the news media worldwide.

Just this past week, I read that some sources of media (probably social media, which is NEVER a good source to get real news) are reporting that those who’ve received the COVID-19 vaccine are now magnetic, and that within two years of getting the vaccine, many will die. Well my wife and I were vaccinated and we can still walk by our refrigerator without being stuck to the door. I also have no plans to wrap up my “final wishes” in the next 22 months. Yeah, there’s a large amount of misinformation out there, and a lot of people are gulping it up, because it comes labeled as being from some “news organizations” that no one has ever heard of or should believe in.

So what can be done to restore the public’s trust in the media and regain our ability to tell readers, listeners and viewers what they truly need to know? To start, we need to encourage our audiences to truly vet stories they see or hear – and by vet, I mean the act or process of appraising or checking a person or thing for suitability, accuracy, or validity. Don’t just listen or read stories coming from your personal favorite sources, because they’ll only reinforce your biases with theirs. I call this “justification journalism,” prevalent on talk radio shows on both the political left and right. Just because you hear a “spokesperson” saying something doesn’t mean it’s the truth – although sometimes it might be. How do we know? See the word “vet” used above.

News is always the exception to the rule. We don’t report on all the shootings that haven’t happened, or all the fires that never started, or all the elected officials or businessmen who didn’t do something illegal or corrupt. We report the exceptions – the shootings, fires, and crimes that do happen. That’s our role – to shine a light on events the public often does not see, to warn the public of dangers that might lie ahead, and to act as a watchdog on government’s performance, monitoring how well it protects our city’s, state’s or country’s interests. 

What the public fails to realize is that almost all NEWS on the Internet (which should not include sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, or Parler) comes from vetted, trusted journalists, not bloggers or political insider hacks. So look for those journalist references, find those bylines and trust those professionals.

I have a photo that’s been on my home screen for months. It shows a young man at some kind of rally holding up a sign that reads this:

“First, they came for the journalists. We don’t know what happened after that.” 

If journalism goes away – true journalism – you’ll never know what happened. Until it’s too late.