Trust, the missing link

At the moment Australian journalism seems to be at odds with its audience and it all seems to come down to trust. The Finkelstein report, released earlier this year, names journalists as the fourth least trustworthy professionals, above only real estate agents, advertising people, and used car salesmen.

Though it’s not as though journalists themselves are too blind too see it. In a study conducted in 2004 by RMIT and Roy Morgan a sample of journalists were surveyed. And it seems there are mutual concerns for both journalists and audiences. The report identifies accuracy, bias, and ownership as key contributors to the public’s lack of trust in journalists. With 56% of the surveyed journalists admitting to ‘often’ making mistakes, and 62% say these mistakes are ‘sometimes’ corrected. Further, 73% agree that media proprietors ‘use their outlets to push their own business and/or political interests to influence the national debate’.

Accuracy, bias, and ownership all contribute to the lack of trust that has created the gap that divides news producers and audiences. Since the rapid increase in the usage of online media outlets and the decline in newspaper readership, this gap seems to have grown. There have been attempts to address this in other countries such as the United Kingdom, with The Guardian. Editor-in-cheif Alan Rusbridger identifies the web as being a crucial factor in bringing a higher level of transparency to world affairs. He says “Our approach recognises the importance of putting a newspaper at the heart of the open eco-structure of information so that you can then harness different voices and link to an array of other sources.” This quote does more than establish The Guardian’s change in journalistic practice it also highlights a change in mind set. The notion of an eco-structure that works through a reciprocal collaboration of recourses, that allows for a relationship between news-producers and those formerly known as the audience; a relationship rooted in and encouraging trust.

Deni Elliott, in Essential Shard Values and 21st Century Journalism, claims that the social responsibility of the journalist in a democracy is to “notice and report the important events and issues that citizens need to know so that they can govern themselves effectively”. Yet with the rise of digital media it seems that the role of the journalist has changed, and that in order to notice report important events and issues journalists need to adopt this notion of an eco-system that collaborates with others (such as bloggers), curates material, and encourages debate. However, insofar as Australian journalism, this change is seen as more of a threat than a benefit. James discusses the attitude of the journalist towards the changing dynamics of the news industry in Authority?. This perceived separation between journalistic ‘professionals’ and those formerly known as the audience is no longer viable.

I find myself perplexed, given the current state of the relationship between the Australian public and Australian media outlets, it begs the question, what are we waiting for?