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Do You Want Better Journalism? by Q Ideas

Got a problem with the state of news media today? Do you think it is too biased? Dan Gillmor says maybe it’s our own fault. The Arizona State University professor and author of We the Media: Grassroots Journalism by the People, for the People believes that a standard of trustworthy journalism can be achieved, but only if consumers get involved.

“In the supply and demand system that guides all marketplaces, including the marketplace of ideas and information, we need better demand, not just more supply,” Gillmor wrote in a blog post at the Harvard Business Review. “We’ll need to transform ourselves from passive consumers of media into active users. To accomplish that, we’ll have to instill throughout our society principles that add up to critical thinking and honorable behavior.”

It’s up to us—the consumers—to begin infusing the conversation with the principles we need and restoring this channel of influence. If we want to see less bias, we must be willing to do research and correct errors. If we want to see another viewpoint, we must become that view point. In the over-cited words of Ghandi, we have to “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

With the downsizing, merging, or closing of many historic newspapers, some worry about how we’ll be able to maintain quality journalism and hard reporting in the future. But Gillmor is optimistic by current changes in culture—changes that might make Walter Cronkite cringe but could be the key to restoring the excellence in reporting Cronkite was known for. Traditional media outlets are slowly morphing into a competitive marketplace, journalistic entrepreneurs and philanthropists are launching experimental outlets, and the democratization of media networks is making it possible for outsiders to become a part of news narratives in even the largest outlets. There are now more entry points and more opportunities for platformed dialogue than ever before. If we become smarter, engaged media consumers, Gilmore says we can expect ample trustworthy reporting in the years to come.

[Opposing viewpoint: See a CNet report on the down side to democratization.]

News you can trust is enticing to many Americans. In the early 1970s, almost 70% of respondents told Gallup that they had a great deal or fair amount of “trust and confidence” in the media “when it comes to reporting the news fully, accurately, and fairly.” In 2008, that number had fallen to just 43% with a whopping 56% had low confidence. In another Gallup poll in 1985, 55% said news organizations get their facts straight; only 36% say the same thing now. It’s not surprising, given these numbers that fewer people are watching the nightly news and reading newspapers.

[For additional data, see a sampling of national surveys on how the public views the media at Media Research Center.]

The difference between Gillmor and many Americans is that Gillmor thinks we can do something more than lament the state of journalism; we can change it. He encourages consumers to be skeptical of everything, ask more questions, and learn media techniques so we can intelligently evaluate stories and speak back into the conversation. By becoming a part of the process, we may actually be part of the solution.

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Do you think the media is mostly biased or balanced? How do you think consumers can begin shaping journalism?

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