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Plus Report - By Thomas Baekdal - October 2015

Bringing Back the News: Confidence and Relevance

Since 1973, Gallup has been doing this amazing study into people's confidence in institutions in the US. For instance, we can learn that people have much greater confidence in small businesses, where larger business are mostly considered to be untrustworthy.

However, for this article about creating an editorial focus that creates trust in news, I'm going to focus on two of these results.

The first one is a bit of a shocker.

In the graph below you can see how confident the citizen of the US feels about the the US Congress.

As you will notice, things are not really looking that good. Between 1973 and 2004, things went up and down. In 1974 the negative confidence was 19%, and in 2004 it was 21%. But then look what happened.

Over the past 10 years, the US political system has basically collapsed. In fact, let me make it even clearer with this graph.

Here you see that the amount of people who don't really feel one way or the other about Congress have stayed around 40%, but for those who do have an opinion, it has now almost entirely shifted towards the negative.

In fact, with 53% saying they do not have confidence in the US Congress, we really need to question whether the US is even a democracy any more. If the majority of people don't support the politicians who are supposed to represent them, but are still making the rules, what we actually have is a form a faux-representative dictatorship.

Mind you, this is not just happening the US. We see this in all western countries. In my country, our current Government is only representative of 18.5% of the public. Look at this wonderful video by CGP Grey.


We can have a long discussion about why this is, but it's not the only thing. It's a combination of several very bad elements, that when combined create this total mess. And before you say that it is our own problem, we should have voted for someone better, you are wrong. Because, in our current political system, we can only vote from a limited and not very good set of politicians, who are presenting a packaged deal of which you only agree with parts.

So we currently do not have a way to vote for a better choice.

And our current political system is built around the old world of media, where people are assumed to be living in a disconnected world with a very scarce source of information. That's why most democratic systems are based on the bottom up. But we don't live in this world anymore.

Most people have no idea, nor do they care about who their local representatives are, since we now live a world of information abundance, coming directly from the top.

Of course, the really big problem is that the whole field of politics, which should really be about collaboration, has been turned into this giant blood sport game of people trying to prevent the other team from doing anything.

If a company worked like Congress, everyone would go bankrupt and we would hate every product they ever made.

But, I'm rambling here, because this article is not really about politics. It's about the news. But I wanted to illustrate how bad things could get.

Let us now turn to how people feel about newspapers, and news in general.

Confidence in news

Every single journalist and editor that I know, feels that they are part of this Fourth Estate of society. In other words, the role of a journalist is to be the protector of democracy.

This is great, right?

So, in a connected world, if our politicians are doing a good job, we do not really need protectors. Because if we trust our politicians, and if their ability to communicate with us directly (as they do today), we do not need journalist to write about them.

But, if our politicians suck, and if there is a growing problem with confidence in politics, then we do need journalists to be our protectors. We need journalists to act as the voice of reason, to give us a factual perspective, and to be the one that people turn to instead of the lying politicians.

In other words. The worse our politicians get, and lower our confidence in them is, the more we need newspapers, and the higher the confidence we would have in news.


Thus, if we look at the confidence people have in news, it should have gone up by roughly the same amount that our confidence has dropped in relation to our politicians.

So, has it? Well, no. In fact it looks like this:

Again, to simplify the picture, let's compare 1973 with 2015.


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Thomas Baekdal

Founder, media analyst, author, and publisher. Follow on Twitter

"Thomas Baekdal is one of Scandinavia's most sought-after experts in the digitization of media companies. He has made ​​himself known for his analysis of how digitization has changed the way we consume media."
Swedish business magazine, Resumé


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