This year I have decided to study honours. After completing my Bachelor in Media, I felt that there was more for me to learn. I knew the 'how's of journalism, and plenty of the 'why's (freedom of speech, holding the powerful to account, the creation of a democratic public sphere), but I didn't know the 'who's. Particularly, who are we doing this for, when the whole world thinks badly of journalism?
I have been noticing a trend for some time now. Many friends, family and colleagues have told me they "don't watch the news", or "don't follow politics." To me, this seemed impossible, but to them, these things are unimportant. They make us cynical, perpetually angry- and the media never tells the truth anyway.
The declining trust in the news media has been well documented for years. A Pew Research survey published in 2009 reported that audience rating of press accuracy had hit it’s lowest point in two decades, with just 29% of Americans saying that news organizations generally “got the facts straight,” while 63% said that news stories were often inaccurate. (Pew Research Centre 2009) In December of 2013, polling by Essential Research showed that while the ABC remained Australia’s most trusted media outlet at a 70% approval rate, this was down three percentage point from January of that same year, and daily newspapers rated at only 48%.
For those who already view news media as dis-trustworthy, confirmation bias and the inability to perceive one’s own political prejudices results in a cycle in which use of news media only leads to, ironically, less trust. To Americans with the lowest levels of media trust, “information appearing on a major media outlet can lead to lower ratings for a [presidential] candidate than when it appears on that candidate’s own website.” (Wise & McLaughlin 2016: 115) In turn, this discourages civic participation and further splits the political divide.
But why is this? With audiences fragmenting and shrinking, some turning to radical or alternative sources and others turning away from news media altogether, this is a crucial question for civic democracies. The 'why' tells us what we are doing wrong.
But it doesn't end there. We must also find solutions to this problem. Ways to flip the switch and encourage critical, nuanced engagement, rather than outright cynicism. This is the 'how', and it's about how we do things right.
There are no easy solutions to this problem, and it's more than likely I won't find the cure during a two year honours program, but I feel I have to try. I'm excited to apply my time, effort, and thirst for knowledge to a project I truly feel is important.
On this blog, I will document my progress and share insights both into my research and honours study as a whole. Thank you for taking this journey with me.