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Journalists see 17 per cent jump in public trust

While many journalists will be seeing the trust figures as a Valentine’s Day gift from the Canadian public, it isn’t all hearts and roses for the beleaguered business in this survey. Continue Reading Journalists see 17 per cent jump in public trust

Journalism in Canada is enjoying a surge in public trust in 2018, according to the newest edition of a global trust index.

The surprising finding — showing a 10 per cent jump for the journalism business in Canada — shows up in the Canadian edition of the “Trust Barometer,” an annual poll by the Edelman public relations firm, which has been measuring citizens’ trust in institutions in more than 25 countries for nearly 20 years. In last year’s report, 51 per cent of Canadians reported trust in traditional and online-only media. In the 2018 version, that number now stands at 61 per cent. journalists — the actual people — get a whopping 17-point jump in trust ratings.

Trust doesn’t pay the bills, so it’s not clear how this sentiment can inject optimism into the faltering business model of journalism. But it could indicate a certain citizen openness to measures that would keep journalism alive — a matter still apparently under consideration by Canada’s Heritage Minister Melanie Joly.

Trust in expertise generally is also rebounding, according to this Edelman barometer. And that too represents another series of surprises: government and regulatory experts are enjoying an 11-point increase in trust over the past year, according to these figures, as are chief executive officers. Financial analysts are seeing a 10-point boost in trust over last year.

Some might be tempted to look at these figures on expertise and declare an end to the decades-long “decline of deference” — a revival of the idea that not every problem can be solved by the common wisdom of the common man.

It’s fascinating as well to note one constituency declining in credibility in this survey: “people like me” are not as trusted by respondents as they were last year.

Is this an early warning about the limits of populism? That may be a stretch.

And while many journalists will be seeing the trust figures as a Valentine’s Day gift from the Canadian public, it isn’t all hearts and roses for the beleaguered business in this survey.

A slight majority of respondents — 54 per cent — reported that they were not engaged with the news, checking in with the media less than once weekly. That’s a higher proportion of disengaged consumers in Canada than the 50 per cent average found globally.

Moreover, the survey picked up on considerable concern in Canada about “fake news” and worries about journalism as a business.

  • A full 65 per cent told this survey that they were worried about fake news being used as a weapon;
  • About 63 per cent say news organizations are too concerned with attracting large audiences; and that same percentage feared that journalists would sacrifice accuracy to be first with a story;
  • About 54 per cent were concerned that journalists would be more ideological than informative.

Still, Canada seems to be demonstrating a certain resilience in terms of trust overall in institutions in 2018 — especially compared to the United States. Who knows? It may even be the spectacle of democracy south of the border, in Donald Trump’s America, that’s making Canadians feel a little better about institutions here.

Much of the Edelman trust survey in Canada reports on sentiment that is holding steady from last year — average trust in government and business is roughly the same as it was in Canada in last year’s report.

Contrast this to the United States, where overall trust in government has plummeted to 33 per cent among American respondents in 2018. By comparison, Canada looks like an island of calm and trust.

The big surprise in Canada was the jump in trust for journalism, as mentioned, and a decline in trust for non-governmental organizations. Trust in these institutions dipped nine percentage points from 2017 to 2018 and it’s not really clear to me why that’s happening.

The survey was conducted well before the latest controversies hitting the Oxfam charity (involving prostitution and sexual abuse), so that can’t be the cause.

The Edelman PR firm, which surveys more than 33,000 people worldwide to do this annual barometer, separates responses between the mass public and a smaller contingent of “informed” citizens (people aged 25-64, in high-income categories, who report considerable media consumption.) There’s still a gap in overall trust between these constituencies across the board, but the upward and downward trends are similar.

If nothing else, the report is definitely a departure from the usual chain of bad-news stories for the media. Journalism may no longer be the business for those looking to be rich or liked, as it was decades ago. But a revival in trust — even a small one — is going to be welcomed in newsrooms across the country.

This story was originally published on iPolitics, and is republished here with the author’s permission.