Media & PR

Should journalists be learning from politicians?

For a long time, the contest to be the least trusted profession in the UK has been a tussle between journalists and politicians – with the occasional strong showing from estate agents.

The latest MORI annual reputation survey shows that, in the wake of the expenses scandal, politicians have pipped journalists to the least trusted prize (net -69 compared to net -50, fieldwork 4-10 September).

There are some parallels between the two professions: little trusted by the public and facing falling public interest (declining turnout, falling newspaper sales and TV viewing figures) as people turn to other places (pressure groups, online news from outside the mainstream media titles).

But there is also an intriguing difference. Politicians have largely been through the “let’s talk about changing mechanics, such as introducing postal voting” phase and got on to the “fundamentally, we need to raise trust in our profession”. However, journalism is still very much in the “let’s talk about mechanics, such as charging for online content” and hasn’t really got on to the phase of “fundamentally, we need to raise trust in our profession”.

The parallel isn’t perfect. The changes in the media world are massive and not all neatly mirrored in the political world. But isn’t a core problem the same? Isn’t a major reason that people increasingly turn elsewhere for news that they don’t trust the quality of what comes from traditional and paid-for sources enough above those other sources? “Pay for news from us because it’ll be accurate” could be a good sell. If people trust you.

Yet the debate in journalism circles over measures such as reforms to the Press Complaints Commission is generally fairly minor tinkering at the edges of a question that is peripheral to the wider trust question anyway – just as the workings of the Standards Commission matters, but isn’t what trust in politics is really all about.

And so I wonder – in journalistic circles, is there too much talk about the technology and not enough about building trust?

3 responses to “Should journalists be learning from politicians?”

  1. I remember being impressed many moons ago by Malcolm Muggeridge (of all people) in a TV interview, in which he made the point that all journalists are essentially in the business of pretending to be experts: when they are anything but.

    Perhaps one of the reasons people now trust politicians even less than journalists is because they know that politicians are essentially in the business of pretending to represent them: when they are doing anything but.

  2. There is a common misconception among the public that journalists make up stories.
    They do not. They may be sloppy or fall victim to falsehoods told to them by other but, in my experience, they do not just make something up.
    People turn elsewhere for ‘news’ because it’s there when previously it wasn’t.
    But everything should be read through a filter of scepticism. Readers trust their instincts – not politicians or journalists.

  3. Steve: don’t you think the degree of scepticism of journalists has increased over the last few decades? That would make people more willing to get their news from elsewhere.

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