Trusting the media in an age of skepticism

Photo by Casey Gomez

Sometimes, it seems like half of America will believe everything and the other half will not believe anything.

You have seen members of that first half before, if not in person then certainly on the social media channel of your choice. They are the ones who will offer “undeniable” proof that Barack Obama was not born in the United States or perhaps claim that the Clinton family has green-lighted dozens of political assassinations. They build a shrine to ignorance. They deify deliberate untruth and recklessly fact-checked theories.

On the other hand is a group that has proliferated in the wake of Donald Trump’s rise from B-list celebrity to president. To them, every argument, testimonial and piece of evidence that runs contrary to a pet cause of theirs is “fake news.” Everyone has an agenda; no one can be trusted. And do not get them started on unnamed sources.

I know that the separation between these groups is not nearly so neat, and that there is in fact a spectrum of people between these two ends, people interested in having rational conversations about politics. And I am also sure that in my distaste for a number of officials within this current administration, I have embodied characteristics of both archetypes at times.

But here is the rub. Who gets stuck in the middle of these two groups? The so-called “mainstream media,” the institutions that, at least for the most part, carry a legacy of factual accuracy, hold themselves accountable when they make mistakes and generally attempt to empower voices from both sides of the aisle.

For the first group, they are too selective, unwilling to cover the “real” stories and desperate to suffocate truly subversive truths.

For the second group, they are not selective enough. They are over-reliant on unnamed sources, heavy on speculation and willing to print anything to make a quick buck.

The fact is that neither of these camps has it quite right. They have taken two abilities essential to good news organizations — curating content and cultivating sources — and painted them as fatal flaws. The Washington Post does not post daily updates on Obama Birth Certificate Re-Verification 5.0, because to do so would be to sully the banner under which they print all other news. It is simply not newsworthy.

And as for those unnamed sources, they are often necessary in order for these organizations to report news in a timely fashion.

What we offer these outlets is not just a subscription fee or a data point to help their case for ad revenue. It is our trust. And it is worth offering.

Because we cannot be on the front lines of every story. We cannot be scanning through hundreds of competing accounts, investing backgrounds to determine the one we can most trust. We must put faith in these outlets to give us the story — or at least the gist of it.