Something very rotten in the state of newspapers

Even on its own results, the “Trust in Media” survey labours under a misnomer. “Distrust in Media” would be closer to the mark.

With the sole exception of The Sydney Morning Herald, Essential Research has had to lump together the newspaper figures for “a lot of trust” and “some trust” to get any of its totals into positive territory (that is, beyond 50%). Only a few categories managed to jump even that low hurdle: local newspapers (52%), ABC and SBS TV news and current affairs (67% and 65% respectively), and ABC radio news and current affairs (63%). Those tireless cultural warriors at The Australian (A lot of trust — 14%, Not much trust — 21%) might take note of those figures for our national broadcasters, but I doubt it.

Do any of these breakdowns really tell us much about the performance of the media? It depends on how you interpret the meaning of “trust”, and whether the survey methodology was truly reliable.

Here’s the deal on trust in the media. For information about anything beyond our immediate experience, we must all rely on the media. In return, the media can only credibly exist if that trust is repaid by fair and accurate reporting. Otherwise the whole implied compact between the media and its consumers would collapse. Yet the fact that our media repeatedly betray that trust through beat-ups, rumour-mongering, selective reporting and sheer invention somehow doesn’t demolish the deal.

But it does show up in some of the dismal figures in the Essential research. Only 4% of respondents declared “a lot of trust” in commercial talkback radio.

At the other end of the scale, SBS TV news and current affairs scored very highly — their “a lot of trust/some trust” total was 65%. But the surveyed group was only around 1000 people, according to Essential, and restricted to those aged 18 and over. Using average nightly viewership as a guide, that would mean no more than 50 of those respondents could reasonably be assumed to be regular SBS viewers. So the rest were telling Essential what they thought about SBS, not what they knew from regularly watching it. Big difference.

Notwithstanding these quibbles over methodology, the overall figures confirm a distressing central issue: the steady long-term decline in trust that the public now extends to its media. Historically (or, more accurately, anecdotally) we know that the media — and newspapers in particular — earned far more respect a generation ago than they do today. They may have been a bit dour, conservative and dull to look at, but they were trusted. Readers weren’t put off by high word counts and sparse pictorial content. They believed the journalists and their editors were providing them with a fair and accurate service.

Television, and then the internet, changed all that. Facts and carefully reasoned opinion are now subordinate to entertainment, the peddling of prejudice and click-bait journalism with the credibility of a New Idea cover story. The most depressing aspect of this decline is that while the public clearly holds the media in diminishing regard, our politicians increasingly enslave themselves to its frenzied news cycles. Apparently, it hasn’t occurred to the political class that the same people who so distrust the media — or ignore it altogether — are also voters.

Should we be concerned? Well, when only 9% of Queensland respondents reckoned they put “a lot of trust” in The Courier-Mail, then we know that something is very rotten in the state of metro newspapers. And remember, Brisbane is a one-paper town.

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Categories: Journalism, Online, Print, TV & Radio

13 Responses

Comments page: 1 |
  1. As I’ve said elsewhere, I too have “some trust” in our Curry or Maul - their Form Guide is usually fairly accurate.

    by klewso on Aug 6, 2014 at 1:51 pm

  2. Regarding level of trust in the Australian is the figure you quoted here correct or the one in this chart?

    by peter@bonifacio on Aug 6, 2014 at 1:55 pm

  3. My trust is displayed by where I’m willing to spend my media dollar. Guess what Crikey, you’re it, I will not spend a cent in the Newspeak Empire.

    by Yclept on Aug 6, 2014 at 2:00 pm

  4. Don’t know what to say about trust in regard to the Oz newspaper because I never buy the said shitty product. Meanwhile, I’ll give it the benefit of doubt: …I would not trust anything that pernicious paper published.

    by Bill Hilliger on Aug 6, 2014 at 2:03 pm

  5. I want to know who the severely intellectually disabled 9% are that have a lot of trust in the Courier Mail.

    Did the surveyors get their names and addresses so they can be institutionalised for their own safety.

    by Lach Hud on Aug 6, 2014 at 2:04 pm

  6. an ex media-watch executive bashing newspapers…who would thunk it?
    Although where he is right is that news has been supplanted by infotainment..not sure that it’s a decrease in quality in news reporting or more an increase in lack of exposure to actual news. If you don’t read how could you say you trust it?

    by Pete from Sydney on Aug 6, 2014 at 2:18 pm

  7. David, I’m not sure why you are apparently surprised.

    Hacking (and let’s not pretend it doesn’t happen here).
    Intervention into politics on a scale hitherto unknown.
    The dominance of ‘opinion’ pieces by partisan hacks.
    ‘Quick-draw’ articles with little fact checking.
    Inconsistent information across platforms (and over time).
    Click bait.
    Sub-editing skills, lack therof.

    Need I go on?

    by PDGFD1 on Aug 6, 2014 at 3:15 pm

  8. Trust in the MSM??? You have to be joking!!

    Thanks to Rupert Murdoch who makes up the news as he goes along, and his venal hirelings, who constitute 79% of the written word there is nothing left to trust.

    Fairfax is heading towards oblivion. The coverage of the little boy who was abandoned was icky wicky ‘Hun’ journalism at its revolting worst.

    by Venise Alstergren on Aug 6, 2014 at 4:32 pm

  9. Without Crikey and The Guardian we’d well and truly done for. Hope the New Matilda flourishes too. Must remember to give them some clicks.

    by pritu on Aug 6, 2014 at 8:40 pm

  10. After the treatment visited upon Mike Carlton by the SMH, I expect their ‘trust’ to be in single figures at the next poll!!

    by CML on Aug 7, 2014 at 2:25 am

  11. How can you trust an institute that contributes so little to society?
    That cherry-picks and spins news for “elitist entertainment”? The selfish self-indulgent self-gratification of that elite few editing content?
    A majority of which uses it’s editorial content market dominance - carrying on like some childish bully, to shout down alternate opinion - like a vanity piece to influence thinking to the ways of some billionaire foreigner - to influence voter perception and thus voting trends/electoral outcomes?
    That is more like a malignant parasitic sociopath on society?
    That maligns those of alternate opinion as “lefties” as if they have no Right to a valid opinion?
    That bludges - pimping for one party - in a democracy - while there is such a dearth of alternate access to dissemination of opinion?
    That subverts and abuses it’s elite position of trust - to the self-interested benefit of the privileged minority?

    by klewso on Aug 7, 2014 at 9:36 am

  12. A stagnant chain of brackish, conservative back-water pools of thinking, in journals that afford maximum exposure to the likes of “Blot on the Political Landscape” the opportunity to encourage the sort of divisive thinking he does as legitimate - to the edited exclusion of others - so he can be hailed “Australia’s Most Read Journalist” - because his politics mirror his employer’s so much?

    by klewso on Aug 7, 2014 at 9:56 am

  13. As an example of politicians being out of date, I discovered a Tweet from Christoper Pyne advertising the fact he had an article in the Jewish News. Woah boy, does he not know the massive reaction to the slaughterhouse of Gaza. Where Jews, Muslims, Atheists and Christians were appalled by Israel’s actions.

    by Venise Alstergren on Aug 7, 2014 at 11:38 am

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