Megan Garber has a thoughtful and all-around excellent piece at the Columbia Journalism Review that looks at how mainstream media and several blogs handled a story about Justice Antonin Scalia and comments he made about a landmark anti-segregation ruling:
In the teeming world of the Web — one defined not merely by seemingly endless variety on the part of news outlets, but also by, consequently, seemingly endless choice among news consumers — one of the rarest and therefore most valuable commodities is trust.
That tenuous good — a function of authority, accuracy, and audience attention — is a limited resource largely because one of its key components — attention — is itself finite. Each audience member has only a limited amount of attention he or she can give to news stories. And that limited resource, in turn, leads to a tension between plenty — the variety and redundancy of news outlets available to audiences — and scarcity. With the end result being, among other things, that no longer is reader loyalty something that can be safely assumed, in the old ‘well, where else are they going to go for their news?’ model. In our world of media plenty, no longer is the cultivation of trust one component of the journalistic equation; it is a key component. It is, in many ways, the component: If people doubt the accuracy of the journalism you produce — or, worse, if they don’t pay attention to it in the first place — then what, really, is the point?
For bloggers, whose journalism evolved with the Web, the visceral instinct toward trust — the implicit recognition of its primacy—is coded, so to speak, into their journalistic DNA. Mainstream outlets, on the other hand — outlets which, up to now, have been able to take their readership largely for granted — don’t generally share that instinct. They’ve always been interested in cultivating trust, of course — trust builds audiences, which builds both revenue and journalistic impact—but their relationship with trust has been more detached. They’ve generally understood trust as something to be ‘earned’…but not as something that is implicitly, and existentially, necessary. While they’ve had to work to maintain reader trust…they haven’t had to work too hard at it. Because, again: where else are the readers going to go?
As my friend Craig Newmark likes to say: “Trust is the new black.”