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Media, ethics, and journalism. What works. What doesn't.

Jeffrey Dvorkin

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

This Just In: Public Distrust of News Media Still Growing

A recent Gallup survey says that public trust in media is down to historical lows. I could have told them that too.

Co-incidentally, in my course on Media Theory I asked my students at the University of Toronto how many of them feel the media is biased. The class has more than 250 students. Almost all raised their hands.

I shouldn't have been surprised. Also in a show of hands, I asked how many actually read a physical newspaper (a few) or watch TV news programs on a regular basis (none). Almost everyone in that classroom live online and get their news that way.

The life of a student these days is not one where they can afford a subscription to a daily paper. Some may have a TV in their dorm, but I doubt that many of them do. Mostly if they watch, it's on the computer. This is not a trend that is going away and even the assumption of media organizations that once these young people get out of university, start to work and settle down, they will adopt more of the media habits of their parents. Those habits are now in assisted-living.

I am doubtful that the old habits will return. My students no longer have the media consumption habits of previous generations, if indeed, they ever did. They prefer information that can be scanned and quickly absorbed. The state of "information deflation" means that there is so much content available, audiences may be declining the option to be informed.

There will be information, of course. And media organizations to pump it out. TV news will be streamed onto cell phones, but like other modes of consumption, news will be further truncated so that headlines and sound bites will be the preferred platform. McLuhan was right: the medium is the message. This will create a new form of "digital democracy" which will have both strengths and dangers.

Not much is heard these days about the British scientist C.P. Snow. He shocked society more than 60 years ago when he claimed that there were now two cultures in Britain - a scientific one and a literary one. Snow lamented just how separate those two views of society had become.

Snow's dystopia* has now evolved into one that we can also recognize in the 21st century: two cultures, one being the computer connected culture. The other sees the digital revolution as a means not an end. 

We just can't see what that end might include.

*dystopia (from ancient Greek: δυσ-: bad-, ill- and: τόπος: place,  an often futuristic society that has degraded into a repressive and controlled state, often under the guise of being utopian.

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