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.