What’s Happening to Our News is a new independent British report from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism. Based on interviews with industry experts, it is focussed on how “digital natives” (that’s young ‘uns) use media sources differently than “digital immigrants”.
Basically, “natives” use multiple digital sources (including social networks and blogs) for news rather than traditional news sources, don’t spend much time looking at any one source, come at sites from reader feeds rather than home pages and expect to interact with news providers rather than be passive recipients of their wisdom.
The report is concerned that since news outlets earn less from the web (so far), they are likely to cut-back on content producers, in favour of people who process the content and make their sites pretty. There’s plenty of evidence the first half of this is already happening, with journalists losing jobs left, right and centre.
It recommends “quality control” for online news sources in the form of a “kitemark” and targeted tax breaks for public interest news reporting.
When the media thinks about why the public is abandoning traditional news sources, there is rarely any self-analysis. I welcome the idea of verifying news sources – but how would it be measured? Because the fact is, mainstream media, while continuing to form mainstream opinion on a variety of issues, just does not cut the mustard for many of us these days.
Media academic Jeff Jarvis is brave enough to state a key problem – in the US, 52% do not trust the media, up from 30% in 1972. A multi-country survey came up with 39% not trusting the media – inflated by some very high figures of trustfulness in Nigeria and India.
The Flat Earth News – a book about media distortion and “churnalism” (the uncritical use of press releases) from award-winning journalist Nick Davies – has spawned a media watchdog website.
In Aotearoa New Zealand in 2007, journalists ranked 34th in the most trusted professions – below business executives, police officers and financial planners – all of whom had quite a year.
Many segments of New Zealand society – notably New Zealanders from ethnic minority groups – have even less trust in the media because they feel ignored or misrepresented. Which is a problem for the media, since by 2026 MSD expect 43% of our population will be Maori, Pacifica or Asian New Zealanders.
Episode 25 of the usually excellent Media 7 last year completely missed the point of Media Diversity awards – that there are growing and thriving ethnic minority news media, particularly in Auckland, because these communities do not have their needs met by mainstream media. Possibly having a group of white men to talk about Media Diversity was less than sensitive in itself.
I have no answers to the business model questions confronting mainstream media, but I do have an interest in news content being robust, fair and accurate. In placing events in suitable context – what Tim Watkin recently describing as having vegetables with his meat. He is concerned about the state of the media in New Zealand because:
The demise of the serious current affairs shows, documentaries and one-on-one interviews on television, the lack of experience, space and staff at the major newspapers, the slide towards irrelevance of a magazine such as the Listener, the partisan banter that dominates the radio airwaves and the internet… it all amounts to a lack of context.
Until the media acknowledges how left out and badly represented many feel by “mainstream news”, I don’t think they will really understand why “digital natives” have abandoned them. Or why so many “digital immigrants” don’t trust them either.
Perhaps the first news outlet to get that and put it out there online will find a way to keep news alive and pay good journalists.
Oh, and I’m back from my internship 😉