20200
P
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20100
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2020
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7

We’ll complain about other people living in bubbles while ignoring our own

“We forget that there was a time where good journalism penetrated ideological bubbles. So why doesn’t it now?”

Public opinion on the question of whether President Trump should be impeached has barely budged over the past few months, and many journalists have cited expanding ideological bubbles as the reason. And they’re not wrong.

But we forget that there was a time where good journalism penetrated ideological bubbles. So why doesn’t it now? Because journalism is stuck in its own bubble. And worse, we don’t seem to want to address the thorny question of how we got there or take much of the blame for it.

So why isn’t our work having more impact on public opinion? I think there are five reasons.

We are not trusted. According to a recent RAND report, 41 percent of those polled said they believed news has become less reliable than in the past, with only 15 percent saying news is more reliable now. Gallup reported in the fall that only 41 percent of Americans said they trusted the media, with that number at 15 percent for Republicans. Yes, Donald Trump’s anti-press rhetoric has surely contributed to that decline. But in 2014, only 27 percent of Republicans said they trusted the press — so the larger issue preceded Trump.

Some journalistic traditions haven’t effectively made the transition to a digitally dominated world. The largest one is the distinction between news and editorial content. No journalist should ever again shake their head and exclaim in explanation, “But that’s the opinion page, not the news page!” I’m not sure that distinction was even as clear in print as we thought, but in a disaggregated digital world, it’s become utterly meaningless. Much of the public believes an opinion column Post that attacks a politician is a sign of the publication’s bias. It doesn’t matter if it’s fair; it’s the reality. But reality can be hard to find from inside the bubble.

We’ve done a poor job of communicating with our audience. This must change as we move into a reader revenue–driven world. While industry chatter about local news is almost always focused on its massive financial struggles, Pew found in March that 71 percent of consumers thought local media was doing well financially. That’s because we stink at showing vulnerability and being honest with consumers that we need their support if we’re going to stay alive. It’s time to stop couching layoffs as smart digital reorganizations, and admit what we know: Local media is in really tough shape.

Social media has pulled the curtain back — and it isn’t pretty. Twitter is its own mini journalism bubble. It’s the most partisan of the social platforms, and also the one where journalists are highly over-represented among the user base. What could go wrong there? As it turns out, quite a lot.

We spend too much time patting ourselves on the back. While I agree that what we do as journalists is important to democracy, one of journalism’s core rules has always been: Show me, don’t tell me. Look at this 2018 study from Arizona State and see how much more highly we rate ourselves than our sources or the public does. We need to do a better job of letting our work speak for itself.

When we decide to let our journalism speak louder than individual journalists, when we decide that many of our traditions need revisiting in this new age, and when we open up to the consumers who are increasingly supporting us, the bond will get tighter and the trust will follow. But the bubble’s gotta burst first. And I wish I felt as if the pop was right around the corner. But I don’t.

Jim Brady is the CEO of Spirited Media.

Public opinion on the question of whether President Trump should be impeached has barely budged over the past few months, and many journalists have cited expanding ideological bubbles as the reason. And they’re not wrong.

But we forget that there was a time where good journalism penetrated ideological bubbles. So why doesn’t it now? Because journalism is stuck in its own bubble. And worse, we don’t seem to want to address the thorny question of how we got there or take much of the blame for it.

So why isn’t our work having more impact on public opinion? I think there are five reasons.

We are not trusted. According to a recent RAND report, 41 percent of those polled said they believed news has become less reliable than in the past, with only 15 percent saying news is more reliable now. Gallup reported in the fall that only 41 percent of Americans said they trusted the media, with that number at 15 percent for Republicans. Yes, Donald Trump’s anti-press rhetoric has surely contributed to that decline. But in 2014, only 27 percent of Republicans said they trusted the press — so the larger issue preceded Trump.

Some journalistic traditions haven’t effectively made the transition to a digitally dominated world. The largest one is the distinction between news and editorial content. No journalist should ever again shake their head and exclaim in explanation, “But that’s the opinion page, not the news page!” I’m not sure that distinction was even as clear in print as we thought, but in a disaggregated digital world, it’s become utterly meaningless. Much of the public believes an opinion column Post that attacks a politician is a sign of the publication’s bias. It doesn’t matter if it’s fair; it’s the reality. But reality can be hard to find from inside the bubble.

We’ve done a poor job of communicating with our audience. This must change as we move into a reader revenue–driven world. While industry chatter about local news is almost always focused on its massive financial struggles, Pew found in March that 71 percent of consumers thought local media was doing well financially. That’s because we stink at showing vulnerability and being honest with consumers that we need their support if we’re going to stay alive. It’s time to stop couching layoffs as smart digital reorganizations, and admit what we know: Local media is in really tough shape.

Social media has pulled the curtain back — and it isn’t pretty. Twitter is its own mini journalism bubble. It’s the most partisan of the social platforms, and also the one where journalists are highly over-represented among the user base. What could go wrong there? As it turns out, quite a lot.

We spend too much time patting ourselves on the back. While I agree that what we do as journalists is important to democracy, one of journalism’s core rules has always been: Show me, don’t tell me. Look at this 2018 study from Arizona State and see how much more highly we rate ourselves than our sources or the public does. We need to do a better job of letting our work speak for itself.

When we decide to let our journalism speak louder than individual journalists, when we decide that many of our traditions need revisiting in this new age, and when we open up to the consumers who are increasingly supporting us, the bond will get tighter and the trust will follow. But the bubble’s gotta burst first. And I wish I felt as if the pop was right around the corner. But I don’t.

Jim Brady is the CEO of Spirited Media.

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