The Public Is Losing Trust In Journalists, Here's Why

Journalists race to inform the public Justin Trudeau ate a chocolate bar in the House of Commons.

News stories from CTV News, Global News, Huffington Post, Vice and Narcity have flooded the internet with that headline. Readers react and forward it to their Instagram stories, retweet it and share it to their facebook pages.

I first saw it on someone’s Instagram story with a sarcastic caption that read, “Breaking News.”

Although some journalists and readers respond and share it with humour and sarcasm, the situation titled “Trudeau Apologizes for Eating Chocolate Bar in the House of Commons,” becomes a part of a larger trend of bad journalism that distracts from important issues and does not fulfill its duty to inform the public.

Climate change for example, is an issue that has been kicked to the curb by the media.

Margaret Sullivan said climate change isn’t getting enough media attention in her article published in the Washington Post, “The planet is on a fast path to destruction. The media must cover this like it’s the only story that matters.”

The article was prompted after a startling United Nations report. The report stated the world has 10 to 15 years to control the effects of climate change which include, but are not limited to food shortages, wildfires, glaciers melting and a reduced water supply.

Sullivan said the report got prominent media attention when it was initially posted, however, she says it’s not enough to make a difference.

"It will need sustained emphasis, by the media and the public, all over the world, if we stand a chance of maintaining a livable planet," she said.

She also quoted Philip Gourevitch, a New Yorker staffer who responded to the UN report on Twitter.

"A bracing reminder that every issue we devote attention to other than climate change is really a secondary issue," he tweeted.

However, Sullivan said not a single question was asked about climate change in the 2016 presidential and vice-presidential debates. Instead of covering climate change Sullivan says the media moved their attention to U.S. President Donald Trump’s raucous comments and tweets.

CNN’s Reliable Sources with host Brian Stelter regularly reviews journalism. The show also confronts the issue that journalists aren’t fulfilling their duty to inform the public on his episode titled "'Golden age' or 'garbage age' of journalism." Dan Pfeiffer, a former senior advisor in U.S. President Barack Obama's political team was a guest on the show and he called for more informative campaign coverage instead of horse-race content.

“Is the goal of campaign coverage to inform the voters of who the candidates are and what kind of president they would be? Or is it to service a group of very engaged political junkies who follow campaigns like sports fans follow the NBA or NFL?” Pfeiffer said.

After the 2016 U.S. election, a Harvard University study on the media’s campaign coverage found that policy accounted for only 10 per cent of the candidates’ news coverage. However, Canadian news organizations are repeating their old habits as we head towards the 2020 election. When Elizabeth Warren announced her candidacy for president, the media immediately started comparing her to Hilary Clinton.

Politico, a publication based on politics published a story titled “Warren battles the ghosts of Hillary,” which heavily debated Warren and Clinton’s likability.

Again, when Warren drank a beer on Instagram Live while talking about her platform points, news organizations immediately published stories which focused on criticizing Warren drinking a beer, rather than any of the platform points she was addressing in her video. However, Warren had a purpose to reach the population therefore whether it was good or bad publicity, the media helped spread the video.

According to the American Press, one of the elements of journalism is “its first loyalty is to the citizens.” With the recent pattern in news coverage, it tells us that its first loyalty is not to the citizens because journalists are not giving the public the information and the knowledge they need to form opinions and engage in societal issues. Knowing this, it is easy to feel betrayed by journalism and it leads me to wonder where the state of journalism is if its not fulfilling its duties.

Are ridiculous titles like “Trudeau Apologizes for Eating Chocolate Bar in the House of Commons,” and stories about a candidate’s likability used as shiny objects to get readers to click and read? Are ridiculous headlines used as a hook to get the public to read about more important issues?

Edelman, an international public relations agency, released their results for their 2019 Trust Barometer, a study which measures the public’s trust. It revealed that 47 per cent of the population trusted the media to get their information.

"In 2019, engagement with the news surged by 22 points; 40 percent not only consume news once a week or more, but they also routinely amplify it. But people are encountering roadblocks in their quest for facts, with 73 per-cent worried about fake news being used as a weapon," it stated.

Therefore, more people may be engaging with the news by reading however, they don’t trust it as a reliable source. Bad journalism that doesn’t fulfill its duty also hurts good journalism that does have the goal to inform the public with accurate information.

Another big questions is, does shiny-object news save journalism by getting more clicks and subscribers?

Politico, the publication that debated the likability of Warren and Clinton has a $200 yearly fee and a 93 per cent subscription renewal rate. It also averages 26 million unique visitors to their site and has a circulation of 32,000 distributed for free in Washington DC and Manhattan. Therefore, with high loyal readership and fees Politco hasn’t lost any steam in publishing stories like the Warren and Clinton story, which don’t serve the public to inform them.

CTV News, Global News, Huffington Post, and Vice as mentioned earlier, are organizations that reported the chocolate bar story. They are also all reputable news organizations with high readership and engagement. Vice has stood out amongst the other organizations since its foundation because it prides itself on being an alternative news organization that reports on the under-reported. Therefore, it comes with shock they reported a story about Trudeau eating a chocolate bar in the House of Commons along with the mainstream media. In fact, more and more of Vice’s news stories follow mainstream news coverage. This leads me to question whether the state of journalism is endangered enough that news organizations are going against their own values, or are their values that easy to throw in the trash for more clicks and shares?

On the other hand, these patterns of bad journalism could be motivated by political stances rather than the need for engagement to survive.

All the news organizations that did report the chocolate bar story, are believed to have a left bias and all their stories pointed a finger at the Conservatives for criticizing Trudeau for eating in the House of Commons. Although, there are rules that prohibit people from eating and drinking anything other than water in the House of Commons, all these organizations reported that people have always eaten.

The Global Mail reported, “Things took an unusual turn when Conservative MP Scott Reid stood up around dinner time and accused Trudeau of hiding and eating a bagel – in violation of the Rules of Decorum of the House — in an apparent attempt to stall the proceedings.” Whether true or not, it seems as though, right-winged bias media had the motivation to delegitimize the Conservative Party by reporting their petty political behaviour.

Politico also has a political bias. It has been accused of having a Republican bias therefore the purpose of their article was politically motivated to delegitimize Elizabeth Warren in the public’s eyes.

By recent patterns in news coverage it has become apparent that news organizations are more concerned with spreading their political biases anyway they can rather than informing the public on important issues like climate change. They spread their biases by producing the most ridiculous headlines to get people to read and share on their own social media, which helps spread political biases further. Even if readers are only sharing to comment on the ridiculous nature of an article it gives the organization more power and a platform to continue to produce content that doesn’t serve the purpose to inform the public and instead serves political biases.

News coverage has recently shown that journalists are not fulfilling their duty to inform the public, therefore the public is losing trust in journalism.