[VIEWPOINT]How to win back readers’ trust

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[VIEWPOINT]How to win back readers’ trust

Highly developed countries with sophisticated communications and information technologies worry more about the future of offline newspapers. More and more young people in these countries read the news on the Internet rather than through paper publications, so newspapers are seeing a drop in sales.
The general meeting of the World Association of Newspapers (WAN) and the World Editors Forum in Seoul this week reconfirmed the crisis, calling for a revolution in newspapers. The world’s major newspapers started responding a long time ago, changing their layouts, lowering prices and inserting more photographs and graphics, to keep their younger customers.
However, this simply is not enough. If this were a problem that can be solved by changing the appearance of newspapers, it would not be called a crisis. The problem is not in the newspapers’ form, but in the content.
The problem of declining readership will not go away as long as the newspaper market overflows with newspapers that give up their objectivity and balanced coverage to serve political purposes, newspapers that publish unconfirmed news in the rush to get the scoop first and newspapers that resort to yellow journalism to catch the readers’ eye.
Newspapers need to keep in mind that they lose the trust of readers when they stray from the basic rules of journalism. Readers that no longer have faith in newspapers leave them without giving it a second thought. This is because there are many other media outlets on the Internet where people can get their news.
Then what about the trust level of Korean newspapers? According to the results of a recent survey, the public’s faith in Korean newspapers is continuously falling and not showing any signs of recovery.
The result of the survey shows that not only newspapers but television broadcasting stations are seeing declines in the public’s trust. This plainly shows us how serious the problem is.
How should we see this situation, where the public trust in all kinds of news media nosedives all at once? The fall of conservative newspapers is not leading to the rise of progressive newspapers, and the fall of newspapers is not leading to the rise of TV or Internet news. In other words, the people generally do not trust the media.
Just as it is difficult to solve a family dispute without an elder in the house, our society is having trouble resolving conflicts and achieving social integration because we do not have a news medium that the people respect.
There is a reason that the Korean press in general has lost the public’s trust, even though they contributed a great deal to the country’s transition to a democracy. Undeniably, it has something to do with the conflict and antagonism between the government and the conservative media over the past several years and the continuous war among different media with different positions.
Readers and viewers find it hard to believe media outlets, whether printed or electronic, that love to point out the faults of others, yet are unable to reflect seriously on their own problems.
The revolution in Korean newspapers has to start by raising trust levels. Newspapers should not expect that the reform in progress now will automatically restore their readers’ faith in them. There is a limit to the extent to what systemic reform can achieve.
And even though the new system may be a just one with good intentions, it could bring about unexpected or negative results. For example, newspapers need to seriously think about how they can maintain independence and regain their credibility while they are receiving funds from the government.
Journalists should make a concerted effort to restore readers’ confidence in them by arming themselves with expert knowledge and high ethical standards. With the expansion of the Internet, anyone can become a journalist these days. However, not everyone can be a professional journalist, armed with in-depth knowledge, carrying out their duty to relay the truth and fulfill their social obligations.
They will be the key to helping newspapers win back the trust of their readers.

* The writer is a professor of Journalism and Communications at Yonsei University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Yoon Young-cheol
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