Journalism: Who you gonna trust?

Every year Nieman Lab publishes a set of journalism predictions for the following year, and every year at least one of them really stands out for me.

At the end of 2021, the stand-out prediction was the piece by Simon Allison entitled: More news is the problem, not the solution. In brief, his point is that journalists are on the frontline of the deluge of information in which all us flounder. And that what journalists do often just adds to the deluge. Instead, he suggests:

Journalism now functions to condense, contextualize, and curate the sheer volume of information that is out there and accessible to all — to stand between readers and the abyss of the infodemic.

I agree with him whole-heartedly, but I think there’s a wider problem at hand.

That problem was encapsulated in a brief bout of Covid19 vaccine hesitancy that my son had before he went and got both of his jabs.

Who to believe?

In many intense conversations in his questioning phase, he said repeatedly that he had tried to do his own research about the safety and efficacy of the Covid vaccine but that there was just so much information that he had no way of knowing who to believe.

I suggested to him exactly what Allison said: that then he should turn to trusted journalists and publications, who would have filtered the information and would be presenting the facts to the best of their ability.

His response to my suggestion of trusted journalists and journalism? Yes, he said, but how do I know which journalists or publications to trust? There are so many of them, they all say different things, the journalists might be corrupt, the journalists might not know what they are doing.

Now: my son is not a conspiracy theorist, he trusts the scientific method, he is (because of the household he lives in where news and political issues and discussions about journalism have been part of family supper talk all his life) digitally and politically literate.

And yet he feels at sea, and overwhelmed, and not at all served by journalists and journalism.

Advice for the floundering

I am certainly not saying that the opinions of one 19-year-old are representative of his peers, or of any wider group. But I do think that the feelings underlying those opinions are widespread: the sense that there is too much information, and that because of that there is no way to know who can be trusted to be fair, accurate and factual.

I don’t have solutions to the problems that beset journalism, though I do think that an understanding of the actual concerns of readers would go a long way to building a platform for understanding what we should be doing.

And for people drowning in the sea of information I don’t have solutions either, but I do have some advice that might help.

I would suggest though that a place to start might be local, and small. If there’s a small community publication or radio station in your area, start there. Listen to their reports, read their articles. Does what they say seem fair and reasonable to you, does it match with what you know to have happened in the place that you live.

If you are lucky enough to find such a publication, pay attention to the wider sources that they may be using and quoting. Because if they have applied the proper journalism processes to their own work (with the end result that their journalism matches with your knowledge of the world), they will be applying those processes to all the sources they use.

Then, see what other sources those wider sources are using, working your way outward in small steps until you have some international, national and local sources of information that check out and that interlock with one another.

Then stick with those, and take everything you see on Facebook or Instagram as mere opinion – interesting but not reliable.

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Main picture by Linus Nylund on Unsplash

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