Credibility and the crisis of influence: The future of reliability in journalism in the evolving Internet age of distraction.

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With the continuous advancements of technology and the influx of Internet publications, it is becoming increasingly difficult to determine the validity of many news sources that are found online. This background report will discuss how credibility has been and will continue to be an important issue in the future of journalism, and how quantity over quality and the pressures of profitable enterprise has and will continue to undermine the importance of credible and investigative reporting.

As Australian Senator Nick Xenophon said in the Sydney Morning Herald: The Australian Journalism industry is in crisis and that whatever issues that have arisen from what happened at Fairfax Media need to be addressed now.

“If we want the fourth estate to be vibrant and diverse, we need to deal with the issues that this inquiry raises, including fake news.” (Donelly, 2017)

But what issues? New South Wales Senator Sam Dastyari, said the strike at Fairfax Media recently showed just how serious the problems facing journalism today are, and that the government and policy makers needed to create a “vibrant free, independent press that allows Australian consumers to get the information they need.”

It seems that as the population gets bigger, so does the hunger for profitability and marketable content that will not only interest media consumers, but make them more likely to spend money.

There seems to be more pressure not only to produce more content sooner, and with that comes the challenge of maintaining credibility.

Gabbi Johnston, digital marketing executive of Gabbi J Digital, spoke about how the majority of people in general still look to professional journalists over public heresy for credibility.

“There is a need for solid journalism, whilst generating revenue to at least pay the bills of the journalists writing them.” (Al-Oraibi, 2015)

“Clickbait” also threatens good investigative reporting, and the addition of financial and timing constraints also threatening the ability to scrutinise credible sourcing of information.

data source

Emily Bell, director of the Tow centre for Digital Journalism at Columbia University; spoke recently at a Journalism lecture in Melbourne, Australia and likened the main issues effecting journalism today to the “mass de-funding by technological companies, loss of control by one set of gate keepers in favour of another, who do not have journalism as their core purpose.” (hear full pod-cast here)

Malcolm Turnbull, the 29th and current Prime-Minister of Australia; and former journalist, wrote back in 2011 that although technology has changed, most of what was relevant 40 years ago is still applicable today.

“Good design, clear expression, accurate and engaging reporting. The objectives are the same, only the context has changed” (Turnbull, 2011)

 

He also went on to say that regardless of the medium, and even with the evolving digital era, people rely on “honest and ethical fearless and independent, responsible and accurate journalism” or that we as a democracy would struggle to remain a free society.

As said by Bell: “As a profession and a field, we (journalists) have to acknowledge the role as well that we may have played over the years in creating a commercial media environment which places higher priority on readership ratings and reach than the absolute integrity of information.” (Bell, 2017)

Basically, the new generation of content consumers love visually stimulating, engaging content. Unfortunately, the need for speed in continuous publications result in even more errors in mainstream news reporting. People no longer seem to care about complex news, instead opting for cat videos or funny memes found on the Internet. And with each click on social media sites, and the highly monetised platforms available today, more money is being generated from trivial stories as opposed to thorough extensive reporting, because the public in general, don’t want to know about it.

Bell went on to say that the truth essentially doesn’t matter so much to the public these days, because even US President Donald Trump’s twitter posts provide ‘enriching and distracting narrative’ which feeds the media frenzy to give the public what they like. It’s what sells content.

“If the advertising model rewards popularity and share ability regardless of originality, value and quality; it’s little wonder that it provides a living for a Macedonian teenager but not enough to support the core reporting functions in local news rooms.”

Mark Zuckerberg, CEO and founder of Facebook wrote on President’s day that there is also a lot more to be done to support the news industry and to make sure that it is sustainable.

“From growing news to developing formats best suited to mobile devices to improving the range of business models that news organisations rely on”.

Bell went on to say that the journalism industry needs to wake up and realise that the journalism crisis of now and the future is not just about financial constraints but that it is a crisis of influence. “A single news outlet in a sea of content doesn’t have the same impact that is used to have.” (Bell, 2017)

Journalists need to work together instead of fighting for ratings, rather to give recognition where it is due, and support each other when good journalism is reported.

“Even when you don’t agree with the political stance of a paper, you recognise good reporting when it happens” (Bell, 2017)

Credibility in journalism is not just affecting mainstream media in Australia or the US. More and more articles on ‘alternate fact’ websites are causing concern around the world, with websites like Breitbart.com; a conservative news and opinion website, which made a false story about a terror attack in Germany that never happened.

The local newspaper, Ruhr Nachrichten, said parts of online reporting on New Year’s Eve 2016 had been modified by Breitbart to produce “fake news, hate and propaganda”. (France-Presse, 2017)

It is interesting to note that Breitbart, although it is known for accusing its mainstream competitors of their reporting of fake news, has been difficult to verify and determine the facts in their own produced stories.

Breitbart, which is said to have 45 million readers per month,  has several media platforms including Facebook and Twitter verified ticks and thousands of interactive followers. It is still very popular world-wide with a large social media following, well-liked by U.S. President Donald Trump and has regular profiling by the larger more established news organisations.

German politicians and media outlets have warned that like the US, there will be a considerable rise in false news reports in the lead up to the German federal elections.

It was also reported by newspaper Allgemeine Zeitung, that websites such as Breitbart would aim this type of false content to spread “misinformation and distortion in order to diminish trust in established institutions”.

Buzz Feed editor Craig Silverman wrote an article in 2005 called “Lies, Damn Lies and Viral Content” which discussed situations like these, in which rumours circulate through social media quickly by websites such as Breitbart and other websites that engage millions of people. He also talked about how mainstream media amplify such rumours at a ‘much higher rate than they are corrected either because of political or financial motives or opportunistic or propagandistic reasons. (Silverman, 2005)

“The platform companies are too relaxed with the type of material that’s circulating, whether for political or economic advantage.” (Bell, 2017)

In conclusion, credibility in journalism will continue to be an important issue in society today. The media landscape is rapidly changing, with the obvious rise of digital over print, declining profits and the importance of social media as a primary source of information. (Pulitzer Prizes, 2016)

Alternative news stories offer many online pitfalls that can be career limiting to new journalists. Accuracy is vital, and fact-checking is important to ensure credibility is maintained. The disinformation by biased media sources such as Breitbart is not new, as is the fervent attacks on journalism and the mainstream media. Credibility will always be an important part of journalism: to separate fact from fiction. It is the necessary provision of a constant flow of stable news platforms that are comprehensive, fair, accurate and accountable which will see quality journalism continue to thrive in a sea of viral deception. 

 

 

References

 

al-Oraibi, M., 2015. Why credibility is the future of journalism. [Online] 
Available at: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2015/08/credibility-is-future-of-journalism/
[Accessed May 23 2017].

Bell, E., 2017. The future of journalism. [Sound Recording] (ABC Radio National).

Donnely, B., 2017. Senate inquiry to investigate the ‘future of journalism’ in Australia. [Online] 
Available at: http://www.smh.com.au/business/media-and-marketing/senate-inquiry-to-investigate-the-future-of-journalism-in-australian-20170510-gw1wth.html
[Accessed 25th May 2017].

Edelman, 2015. 2015 Edelman trust barometer. [Online]
Available at: http://www.edelman.com/insights/intellectual-property/2015-edelman-trust-barometer/
[Accessed 1 June 2017].

 

France-Presse, A., 2017. German police quash Breitbart story of mob setting fire to Dortmund church. [Online] 
Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jan/07/german-police-quash-breitbart-story-of-mob-setting-fire-to-dortmund-church
[Accessed 3 June 2017].

Pulitzer Prizes, 2016. Technology, Community, and the Future of Journalism. [Online] 
Available at: http://www.pulitzer.org/event/technology-community-and-future-journalism
[Accessed 19 May 2017].

Silverman, C., 2005. Lies, damn lies, and viral content: How news websites spread (and debunk) online rumours, unverified claims, and misinformation., New York: Colombia Journalism School.

Turnbull, M., 2011. The future of newspapers, the end of journalism. [Online] 
Available at: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2011-12-08/turnbull-the-future-of-newspapers-the-end-of-journalism/3719482
[Accessed 23 May 2017].

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