Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Trust the media? Um, no.

Posted By on Wed, Sep 29, 2010 at 11:26 AM

I'm a member of the media and don't trust most of the industry, so it's no surprise to me to read a Gallup Poll report that says most Americans don't trust the media either. In fact, trust for the media is at a record high, with 57 percent of the people polled saying they don't trust the media. And, if you're college educated and make more than $75,000 a year, the poll suggests, you're less likely to trust the media than those who aren't and don't.

Oddly enough, Republicans report trusting the media less than Democrats in these results that also state 48 percent of those polled think the media's too liberal. That's odd because the highest-rated television and radio shows are conservative. (Of course, a third of those polled think the political balance is just right.)

Speaking from personal experience: I've been misquoted and watched others in the media show up at trials only to read their own newspaper. And I've witnessed time after time, reporters show up who don't have the first clue about the story they're reporting on only to grab the first three quotes they can get and run back to their offices before the news event they're covering is even over. It's also frustrating to see press releases repeated, verbatim, in the news. And, sometimes, you can even catch a television station using unedited, unexplained content produced by companies that are directly impacted by the issue. (See the video after the jump.)

With that said, there are still plenty of journalists in the world who are working very hard to bring you the news you need. Problem is, many of the stories we work on aren't sexy. You're not going to find a serious journo reporting at TMZ.com, for instance ... not to diminish that organization's ability to break a story about a starlet.

But the really important news, the stuff that actually impacts our lives, isn't always breaking news. The stuff that impacts us the most often requires weeks or months of research, and it's not cheap ... which means news organizations are less interested in it these days because they can't see an immediate return on investment.

You see, your page views lead directly to coveted advertising dollars. If you tell the newspaper, by way of clicking on its Internet links, that you're more interested in Lindsay Lohan's downward spiral than, say, whether or not a government employee blatantly stole money from a mental health organization, then a traditional newspaper's going to publish more about Lindsay and less about the theft because it makes more cents -- literally.

And, that's not to mention the outright partisanship you'll find on Fox News, MSNBC, here and on many, many other news sites.

Enter nonprofit news organizations like ProPublica, the American Independent News Network, the Center for Public Integrity and others. Their reporting isn't supported by advertising revenue. Instead, they're often supported by grants or private investors. Is that a perfect system? No, probably not. (Though, what is?)

I urge you to look into their reporting and sign up for their newsletters if you're interested in in-depth news you can trust. In fact, since newspapers are canning so many staffers these days, you'll probably start finding reports from these organizations — some give their work away for free — in local papers.

It's also incredibly important for you to learn more about who and what is behind the news you read, which is why I support journalists who are themselves, i.e. not monitored or censored by their bosses, in social media forums and who are willing to disclose their political leanings.

Also important: Check out the "about us" page on most websites. Was the article you're reading written by a public relations firm, a lobbying organization, a political action committee, an untrained journalist, a nonprofit organization, a corporate newsroom, an independent journalist ... who? In other words, know your news peddlers. If they're not willing to disclose much about themselves, click the "x" button and move on.

Here's that video I promised:

Rhiannon "Rhi" Bowman is an independent journalist who contributes snarky commentary on Creative Loafing's CLog blog four days a week in addition to writing for several other local media organizations. Additionally, she's on the steering committee for the Greater Charlotte Society of Professional Journalists. To learn more, click the links or follow Rhi on Twitter.

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