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Regaining Trust In The News

 

Trust but verify, was a line from former U.S. President Ronald Reagan. I have heard it being used more now as there seems to be an erosion of trust in global affairs. It is a line I believe our news media needs to follow in a world where deciding between what is fact and fiction is only going to get more difficult.

I have been an avid consumer of news for decades. Whether it be from watching a nightly newscast or getting the daily paper to now streaming and digital subscriptions - I will follow.

Obviously, the evolution in the distribution model is what people will point to when discussing change in the news media, but I believe a more profound transformation has taken hold.

Some argue that once the U.S. News became a profit centre for networks that the decline in journalism began. Just take a look at this prophetic article from 1986 in the LA Times that predicts pending doom.

The onslaught of social media was the next salvo to hit the news as more people discovered they could become their own “Letter to the Editor” and soon opinion was everywhere.

Yes, talent still matters, but the onslaught of supply and a celebrity obsessed culture has greatly diminished the stature and influence of journalists. Logarithms and charlatans that exploit our tribal instincts reward the extremes with oversized attention. Like moderate politicians, context and nuance have been pushed toward extinction. News media now must chase clicks and cater to “their” audience in a fight for survival. The biased news agenda that has evolved from this market pressure is melting trust faster than the ice cap.

Of course, it did not help that a former U.S. President used this for political gain. Many saw this as a dangerous attack on the fourth estate and I would agree, but like many things the former tv reality star - President, exploits sad realities, more than making them.

In Canada, the growing lack of trust I believe is more worrisome. A state broadcaster holds significant market share with a concentration of few other major players. The news media in Canada is more of a cartel, than a thriving diverse, competitive industry. The increased media subsidies announced in the latest Liberal budget that will go to this cartel is a reality that only adds to the perception of bias. When Ford Motor Company declined government assistance during the great recession, its reputation from the public was boosted dramatically. Don’t expect the Canadian media cartel to show that independence - they have been more than happy to take the cash - perception of objectivity be damned.

Now AI brings the next assault on trust. Deep fakes are blurring the line between what is fact or fiction. That, along with artificial content that can be generated in seconds and we are now in the age of misinformation.

While some see doom ahead, I do see the thirst for truth only growing in an AI world. To quench it, the News media will have to ditch the opinion and replace it with verified facts. The company, hello Elon, that can establish trust with the technological scale to offer timely verification will own the future of News. The blue verification check can extend well beyond individuals to news content itself.

Mastering verification without first regaining trust will only bring us back to the era of doubt we live in now. News needs to get back to black and white and lose the colour. We are drowning in polarizing opinion that clouds the legitimacy of facts and takes resources from the investigative journalism we sorely need.

Yes, trust but verify. News media needs to regain the former, so it can develop a new business model providing the latter. 

First one there, wins!

By Gregory Cawsey

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