Trust & the media: who do you believe?

326 326 Time To Talk

Last week, I attended Free Word’s live debate on trust, the media and young people – part of their series of debates on trust taking place over the next few months. Featuring a panel with an entrepreneur, lecturer, television producer and the commissioning editor for BBC Radio 1, the debate touched on controversial subjects like the death of Mark Duggan and the use of an edited image by the media to give a false impression of him.

However, by far the most engaging conversation began when the issue of how young people are portrayed in the media was brought up. Members of the audience contributed to the debate by sharing their personal experiences with the issue, young people stood up and some defended the younger generation, while others debated access to younger members of society. Members of both the audience and the panel felt that young people are unfairly demonised in the media. However, there was a belief that change is coming and that a more accurate perception is starting to filter through, thanks to young people themselves. Young people utilise the online world, engaging with each other and challenging the negative stereotypes which prevelate, making use of the interactive platforms available to ensure their voices are heard.

Online news versus traditional news is a hot subject. Speaking to students aged between fourteen and seventeen from the RSA Whitley Academy in the Midlands, I asked, how important the news is to them and which news sources they trusted. I found that these young people were very aware of the bias present, but that they didn’t always consciously consider how it affects all of the news media they consume.

Most of the students considered news to be important, due to the factual information about global and local events which it provides. I share this view, but believe that news can come in many forms. Though it has not yet reached global television or newspapers, online content still qualifies as news. I don’t tend to read the local paper, however, I do follow a blog which writes about my local area, without focussing on local politicians or school stories. I find that this blog is more engaging, more interactive and more relevant to me.

I was, however, very surprised to find out that none of the students I spoke to bought national newspapers. When I was at school, national newspapers were brought in and read and talked about to kill dead time. These students, however, informed me that national newspapers were only read if they were found at home, yet they would gladly read and share stories passed around on social media sites, without considering how trustworthy their sources were. So I asked them: which news sources do they trust and why?

Most of the students cited the BBC and national newspapers as trusted sources, either due to familiarity, or the presence of the institution. When I stated that even these big corporations have biases, one student said that she preferred the facts. Most students also claimed that they were aware of bias and would review more than one source to make a conclusion. Another cited YouTube as a news source, due to the opinions expressed there seeming more “real”.

I think it is very difficult to know which news sources to trust. In the mainstream or traditional media bias may be difficult to detect. Other than in opinon pieces, audiences expect traditional news media to be true to their responsibility to provide their followers with cold hard facts and tend not to look much furthers. Facts, however, can be subject to manipulation and it’s often the story built around the facts and disguising an opinion that is of most interest to audiences. Delving a little further into an issue by heading online to find a different view also comes with its own risks though. Bloggers and other members of the online community are under no legal obligation and sometimes incorrect facts and doctored images cause waves before their ripples have been validated.

Any news is often conceived as being better than no news at all. Having any information, from any source, reliable or not, takes priority in groundbreaking news situations, with journalists preferring to go with with the information they have rather than waiting to validate uncertain sources. Herein lies the challenge: nowadays news needs to be immediate, yet, at the same time, unbiased. Access to different angles and opinions also provides a superior story, but not necessarily the perspective, corresponding to policies and stereotypes, which sells the most papers. In this respect, traditional news media is too static and unengaging, playing catch-up to savvier independent outlets. However, while bearing this all in mind, if there is any one thing which I would take away from March’s trust in the media debate, it’s that journalists work hard to uncover the truth and that while these arguments are all important, we should bear in mind their predicament and avoid demonising them while we do so.