Hey news media. You're breaking my heart.

My faith in the media has been fundamentally shaken.

It's taken me a little while to get here.

And I'm fairly sure I'm not the only one.

Part of it has been COVID coverage. But this has been a long time coming.

One of the surveys I keep an eye on is the Edelman Trust Barometer, which has been running for almost twenty years now. 

(This graph was taken from the Edelman 2020 survey. You can review the document here.)

There's a noticeable drop in 2020.

That same report has a seven point decline in trust in public institutions (read: government, business, media, and NGOs) by the informed public.

Further to this the Digital News Report, an annual report done by the Reuters Institute and the University of Oxford, had this to say:

"The past decade has been especially hard for local newspapers in Canada. Hundreds of local news outlets – most of them community newspapers – have closed, though this has been somewhat offset by launches of new local operations. Research shows that depth of reporting about civic affairs declined sharply in small and mid-sized Canadian communities between 2008 and 2017, leaving citizens less informed about their democratic institutions." (Source)

In this report almost half of Canadians do not trust the news media.

And I can see why.

There has been a fundamental breakdown in our media landscape.

From amalgamating the various press outlets -- for example, the two newspapers in my city (the Sun and Herald) now have just one joint editorial room -- to imploding advertising revenues, there have been innumerable firings of reporters and the end of local reporting.

According to the 2019 Canadian Media Concentration Research project report on the media, "(in) 2018, there were 10,200 fulltime working journalists in Canada—a crushing drop of nearly 22 percent in five years."

For those reporters and journalists left standing they're being asked to do more with much less. That's with a more intensive media cycle, less research tools, an over-reliance on social media to find stories, and being taken off a singular beat to cover dozens of areas. It's a steel-cage death match for a journalist to break in and keep their gig, and with less and less ability to do their job.

The deck is stacked against those that remain.

Add in that trust in social media is at an all time low, and it being the principle way to connect with Canadians to these news agencies, we're even in worse straits.

This is problematic.

In democracy we come together to make decisions as a group. If there are no shared facts, a discussion is almost impossible. If there are no shared discussions it's not even possible to start a conversation, nevermind head towards a consensus.

For the past century the way and means for a discussion has relied on methods of mass communication: newspapers, television, and radio. Things run by the mainstream media.

If this cornerstone of our democratic tradition is now gone, what happens? How do we move forward in making those fundamental decisions on how to solve our shared problems?

This is a fractured landscape, built purely on conflict, and where there is very minimal common ground to create discussion.

It's oftentimes in my personal experience that I am left less informed after reading something in the current news media. Or, worse, misinformed.

Just the other day, long-time journalist Danielle Smith was caught pushing a COVID myth that was being boosted by the fringe right. She is a person with a platform, a history of journalism, and more than twenty years in the political arena in one form or another. Some might write her off as a "host" or a "performer," but she is a person with journalist training - she was an editorial writer and columnist at the Calgary Herald for six years.

This is one example. But there are hundreds more - of well-trained, expert reporters who are pushing messaging that undermines the institution of journalism.

It's to the point where I don't see the difference between Ezra Levant's Rebel Media, Derek Fildebrandt's Western Standard, the Post Millennial blog, and my local Herald-Sun. It's indistinguishable.

Supposedly this year a bail-out, through various tax measures, is coming to the rescue of local news coverage.

The thing is, it might be too late.

Those reporters that have been let go have found new careers. Those institutions, parts of communities for decades, once shuttered are gone for good. And trust is something that is easy to lose in a moment and takes a lifetime to re-earn.

So what's next?

I'm not sure. But if these trends continue, I think that there are three key take-aways.

(1) You need to invest in your platforms.

Without that mediator moving between content creator (you) and the public, there is a need to create those direct channels of communication.

It could be as simple as a mailing list to send email updates to your customers/supporters. Alternatively, you could create blogs, positioning pieces of copy on websites, and take your message right to the consumer. It's beyond styles of traditional marketing: it's taking a news agency approach to your communications from stem to stern.

(2) Create cross-institution collaboration.

The Edelman survey at the beginning of this blog-post highlights some takeaways from their work. One of the key elements to re-earn trust with the public is to engage with stakeholders, collaborate with other institutions, and build towards a place where there's a consistent level of reliable communication.

It's about clearly communicating your purpose, tying it to your organization, and showcasing your dependability.

(3) Pay for your news.

It's easy to be a passive consumer. It's easy to rely on what's given to you from your automatically filtered or curated network of friends and family on social media.

But to know what's going on and to be an active citizen requires intentionality in your consumption of media.

It requires your attention. And to make choices to read and consume news that actively informs and challenges.

I pay for my news: I subscribe to the Economist for my international news, to Alberta Views for the smorgasbord of Alberta perspectives, and to a variety of one-reporter shops in my city (like Jeremy Klazus' Sprawlcast). I recommend sitting down and looking at those news sources that have earned your trust and make the investment decision to make sure that they survive and thrive in this period of uncertainty.

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