Elections and Citizen Journalism: Trust and Looking Back to the Future of Political Coverage

When I was teaching, we had a problem that turned into a joke around the office.  Parents expected teachers to be extremely strict with the students.  Conversely, the students expected us to be extremely lenient.  To make the parents happy we had to make the students mad and vice-versa.  This insoluble dilemma became a joke, “If the parents are mad because you’re too nice and the students are mad because you’re too strict, then you must be doing a good job!”

 

This week’s readings seemed to carry a similar challenge for online journalists and audiences in a word that threaded its way through both articles: trust.  As Kaufhold, Valenzuela, and de Zuniga point out, Pew data suggests trust in the media is at a historic low.  For Akoh and Ahiabenu, mistrust undermines the relationship of professional journalists with election officials in African democracies. For Kaufhold et al, the lack of trust was seen as causal of political cynicism.  For Akoh and Ahiabenu, mistrust undermined the ability of journalists to validate elections by observation from start to finish, thus stymying manipulation between vote collection and tabulation.

 

In both cases, the lack of trust in the relationship of journalism with democracy seems to emulate my experience.  For Kaufhold et al., if members of both parties are convinced that the media is biased against their candidate and FOR the other then the reporting is relatively balanced.  If African citizens are convinced that the media isn’t covering elections thoroughly and election officials are convinced that the media is asking for too much access, then the media must be doing its job.

 

Ironically, I felt as though Kaufhold et al mentioned a cure for mistrust in political journalism, although they perhaps missed it in their data (IMO they reported it backwards). The authors argue that “people who trust citizen journalism are substantially more active online.”  This suggests that faith in citizen journalism precedes online activity, which I suspect is an inversion of the interaction.  I argue that increased online activity informs confidence in citizen journalism, rather than vice-versa. 

 

If this is valid, it stands to reason that as African consumers gain increasing access to online media, and as election officials grow more familiar with their journalist counterparts, an overall increase in trust among the groups will emerge.

 

As for the impact of citizen journalism on politics, I felt an irony in this week’s prompt.  A lot of people presume that balance in political reporting are the status quo in America, but both of these priorities emerged in an effort by the media to reach larger audiences for their advertisers.  Before the early-20th century, ALL political content, including media coverage, was funded by partisan groups and parties. I would argue that, rather than facing a new era in political content, we may actually be facing a reversion to the highly-partisan content of the past.  Perhaps instead of predicting the future, the key to understanding what tomorrow holds for political reporting may be lie a century ago.

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4 thoughts on “Elections and Citizen Journalism: Trust and Looking Back to the Future of Political Coverage

  1. One thing that I did really like, that I thought the papers did well, as well as you, is talking about the trust issue as a sort of a authority capital. It’s like a bank — the more you put in and store away, the more you get out in return, but with trust instead of money. And I guess you do that by being trustworthy for a long time. So much of that is, though, to me at least, the appeal to authority cognitive heuristic at play. Someone seemingly trusts CNN because they’re an authority, not because their information is in anyway more checkable in the mind of a consumer. That’s where I think social media is headed. It’ll take more time cashing into the reliability bank. But the big question is if the heuristic will ever let information obtained on a social network be the “same” on the authority perspective.

  2. xiluommc says:

    It is interesting to me when I read the sentence “if members of both parties are convinced that the media is biased against their candidate and FOR the other then the reporting is relatively balanced.” Bias is everywhere. When I look at FOX News, I see a lot of bias. When I look at CNN, I see that same bias. Actually, it appears in both citizen journalism and professional journalism and I don’ t think it could be thoroughly eliminated, especially when it comes to election coverage.But it seems that bias is not always negative. Media have the freedom or right to frame messages for receivers as long as it tell the truth. Clarity instead of bias is what we should be concerned.

  3. I question your logic here: “If African citizens are convinced that the media isn’t covering elections thoroughly and election officials are convinced that the media is asking for too much access, then the media must be doing its job.” Let’s put it into numbers and see. People want level 10, but they get level 5. Officials think 0 access is the right amount, but press asks for 10. You see what I mean? It’s not the same kind of comparison as the students, parents, teachers example.

    Your point about trust in citizen journalism, however, seems spot-on to me. I see that kind of fallacy in a lot of research — an implication that somehow two things happen in parallel, when to me it seems clear that if you use online media a lot, it means you like it, you find value there — so of course you trust it. Otherwise you’d be an idiot, relying on something you consider unreliable.

    I agree with you about the possible “reversion to the highly-partisan content of the past.”

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