When trust fails, so does democracy

I’ve heard journalism is dead. People would rather read ranting blogs than a well-written, thought-out newspaper story. Why is that? Part of the reason is that many people plain don’t trust the established media. They think “the media” is a conspirator who manipulates the news a la 1984 to sway the audience to a certain political leaning.

But as fun as conspiracy theories are, it’s just not true.

Since 1977, trust and confidence in the mass media had declined, from almost three-fourths to only 43 percent in 2008, according to Gallup polls.

For the profession that is supposed to provide information to help the public be well-informed, free-thinking voters, a lack of trust is a big problem.

Good journalism is supposed to inform the public what to think about, what issues of the day are affecting the community. Journalism is not supposed to tell you what to think, despite the best efforts of pundits on cable news.

Journalists are taught to strive for objectivity. Yet it is impossible to be 100 percent objective. We’re human. Choosing which story gets placed on page one and which gets placed on page three is bias.

But journalists are taught what makes a story important (how recently the event occurred, if prominent figures were involved, the proximity of the event to the area that media covers, the significance the event will have on the community, what conflict occurs, how much it stands out from the everyday occurrences).

A lot of thought goes into what stories are written, and which story deserves more recognition than another.

Journalists are also taught how to write a story as objectively as possible. They are taught to consider the legal ramifications of plagiarism, libel and privacy rights. They know the rights they have to open records and open meetings.

Are bloggers taught this? No. Do they know how to mimic media outlets and make the public think they are well-researched, investigative journalists? Yes.

Many people believe journalism is dying, that soon newspapers will be discussed only in history books, and all the news will be on the Web. Because we all know how reliable the internet is.

People think that the “liberal mainstream media” has corrupted journalism ethics. But Fox News is about as mainstream as you can get, and it is certainly not biased to the left.

Then others complain that journalism has turned into conservative pundits yakking about whatever they want.

Regardless of preference, established media has a lot more going for it than whatever you find in the blogosphere.

The established media is established for a reason. They follow journalistic standards to ensure that the public hears the truth.

Everyone in a democratic society has a right to say whatever they like. The media has the standard to tell the truth, whether you like it or not. With shaky facts, collected from gossip, pundits and blogs, we get a notable percentage of the population thinking the president is an African-born fascist Muslim.

And these are the people who get to vote, to shape our country and its future.

Yes, technology is changing the media world. But journalism is not dead. Newspapers (including The Oracle) are moving to online editions.

But just because The New York Times is online next to www.hippiethinksJFKconspiracyrevealedby911.com does not mean they are equal caliber.

Journalists strive to maintain the ethical standards of their profession. Otherwise, the public turns to the most interesting “news,” whether it’s true or not. When that happens, we have misinformed voters. With enough misinformed voters, we have a democratic system falling apart.

Support reliable media. Hold them accountable for content, and they will inform you on all the details of events and issues that will make you a better, thinking citizen.

Trust me.