The Untrustables

More news from the bad side of town: Americans distrust the media. The revelation itself isn’t surprising, but the magnitude has reached peak levels.

“Little trust in the media” and “no trust” answers combined for a 57 percent swath of the American public in the latest Gallup survey.

Ignoring that “the media” is a broad, overused, under-defined term, the study is still troubling.

Even if we as journalists aren’t actually worthy of the “Untrustables” moniker, public perception is reality.

Sociologist William Thomas noted in his seminal work, “If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences.”

Perhaps journalists’ public perception comes after years of outside research announcing that we tell people what to think about, and we choose the information flow as gatekeepers.

In the legacy media, journalists were a Hoover Dam to the Colorado River of information.  Now, instead of a gate, the information on the web can be likened to a pool.

Readers can enter, interact with or deliver content anywhere. While the biggest splash still comes from the traditional-media diving board, our readers can jump in wherever they please.

The selective knowledge of editors is still important, just in different ways.  Our public still needs gatekeepers to help them navigate the yawning chasm of information floating out there.

Journalists need to embrace the expanding role of gatekeeping: not only bringing new information to readers, but also assisting readers’ navigation of the information already out there.

We’re swim instructors and lifeguards now, people.  Grab the sunblock.

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