The media must be more responsible to save itself
“Not many people have asked if I’m OK.” These words have stuck with me over the last fortnight following the airing of ITV’s documentary, ‘Harry & Meghan: An African Journey’.
The Princess’ statement, and her wider struggle to cope with the intense media scrutiny that comes with being a British royal, shocked many viewers. From where I’m sitting, though, it’s about as surprising as dawn following night.
Professionals on all sides of the media playing field are battling their own demons. Sensationalism, the endless battle for audience attention and ever-shallower budgetary bottom lines have created a culture of acting first and considering consequences later. Every brand, publication and organisation wants to make an impact. But increasingly it feels the potential rewards blind journalists and marketers alike to the risks of that approach.
It’s no wonder public faith in, and respect for, our industry is in free-fall. This year’s Edelman Trust Barometer makes for worrying reading. The report measures sentiments surrounding the media, politics and big business. For 2019, it shows a record high in trust inequality, with a Grand Canyon-sized gap between informed public and mass population. In short, that mass population now believes very little seen or read.
Despite those differences, though, both groups share in a desire to see positive change happen. For me, that has to mean taking more responsibility for collective and individual actions. Sadly, though, some of the most prominent personalities in media, social, marketing and comms don’t seem to grasp the seismic shift in perspective sweeping the world.
This month we saw Mark Zuckerberg flounder over questions regarding Facebook’s ability to safeguard the American electorate against misinformation ahead of the 2020 election. His reassurances are worryingly thin on the ground, his arrogance and lack of appreciation for how important this is astounding; hardly the attitude that will win favour from the public.
Here in the UK we’ve had Piers Morgan take leave from anchoring Good Morning Britain after tactlessly trying to rally fans against so-called snowflakes. The situation arose due to complaints over comments he made about gender self-identification. The latest in a long list of indiscretions, a social media poll was launched asking if the breakfast TV star should resign. The majority of respondents believed he should step down.
Both examples, along with circumstances that led to Meghan Markle’s plea for privacy, mean the general population’s distrust and malaise towards the media makes perfect sense. This puts the entire industry in a predicament, with the very audiences, consumers and users we rely on turning against any and all organisations associated with these sectors.
The point is we must all take heed of the way tides have turned, and realise why they turned. To redirect the current back in our favour we need more responsible content, a greater appreciation of the impact reporting can have on the people those stories concern, and awareness of the dangerous repercussions that stem from stoking fires with controversial rhetoric. Only then do we stand a chance of saving whatever reputation our jobs still have, and safeguarding the influence they rely on in order to function effectively.
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