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The media is just people,
This review is from: Can You Trust the Media? (Hardcover)Many of journalism's finest minds are already working to save journalism in the information age - speculating about the "audience" experiences and the business models that have to emerge online if as a free society we are to continue to reap the benefits of journalism. As attention moves online, the question commonly goes, how is journalism going to make enough money to hold politicians and corporations to account, scrutinise the claims of public figures or reveal scandals to public view? If it currently takes the sort of resources available to the BBC, a major national newspaper or a TV news network to carry out thorough investigative journalism, how are the far smaller revenues available online ever going to pay for that sort of thing?
In his latest book - Can You Trust the Media?, launched later this week - Adrian Monck takes a different approach. He says that even the journalism we have now isn't really up to the job.
"I don't really think we can expect reporting as it is currently resourced to provide either the answers or the kind of public scrutiny these important questions require. (I don't even know if we can ask the public en masse to be interested.) And there are few incentives for journalism to shoulder the burden of informing the public in the first instance (although there are niche opportunities for that to happen). So what can we do?"
First, some spoilers. The book rattles through its titular question in the first couple of chapters, reaches as a conclusion a pretty unambiguous "no", and - having demonstrated through a range of examples that we cannot and should not trust the media - goes on to discuss the implications of this state of affairs and what we might be able to do about it.
But the central message is an important one, and rather subtler than a simple "yes/no" answer to the question of media trust ostensibly posed. Because everyone involved in the media is just people, that allegedly omniscient, omnipotent monolith that looms over the public consciousness as "the media" is really only as good, as fallible and as trustworthy as the people involved. Journalists trying to do their jobs for better or worse, sub-editors checking facts either rigorously or lackadaisically, newspaper proprietors trying to capture public attention for their commercial products, columnists quoting sources or fabricating them out of idleness, wikipedians contributing to the user-edited encyclopaedia..."the media", that lofty edifice, is just people with all the frailties and limitations thereof.
Adrian's latest book makes this point about media eloquently and with numerous examples. Can we trust Wikipedia? It's just people. Can we trust the BBC? People again.
I recommend it to anyone interested in the current state of journalism in the digital age, both in theory and in practice, as well as anyone looking for a potted history of the "crisis of trust" that has overtaken British media in recent years. Can You Trust the Media? is a uniquely humane take on the question of what sort of trust we should really vest in institutions, and if it concludes - rather like his Crunch Time before it - that the portents for journalism are not especially rosy, it ends by suggesting some positive solutions.