The Facts Behind the Demise of the Legacy Mainstream Media

My last article summarised the demise of the legacy mainstream media (MSM). I provided several examples of how trust has declined in the MSM. The Centre for Journalism Media and Democracy (JMAD)  recently published its annual report on Trust in news in Aotearoa New Zealand 2024, with illuminating factual content reviewing this decline.

Since this report, the closure of TV3 News and layoffs at TVNZ, much has been written about MSM’s demise. Sadly, the media has been navel gazing and crying into their lattes and chardonnays, without really asking why, or simply finding excuses as to why and ignoring the central issue. In this article, I will discuss the facts from this report, with supporting comments.

The chart below shows the decline of trust in the media:

Much of this decline has been attributed to the impact of Covid-19 and the fallout from the Public Interest Journalism Fund (PIJF). In part, this may be true. Peter Bale (11th April) wrote about the demise of MSM covering these two issues. Part of his assessment is below:

“The government also responded to fears of the damage to the local media industry from Covid with an imaginative $75 million fund to support public interest journalism. However, it backfired spectacularly from a PR point of view with a nasty and skilful campaign from the right and sceptics of Covid lockdowns and vaccines saying that it showed the “mainstream media” had been bought by the government.

“Having been involved in conceiving the Public Interest Journalism Fund literally as a pool of money intended to support “at-risk journalism” I am aware that it shifted from that objective in ways I felt departed from its original intent and made it more likely to become a target for those who wanted to diminish the standing of news media.

“The fact, rightly in my view, that the money was also contingent on respect for The Treaty of Waitangi, made the PIJF a target for the “anti-woke” mob who claimed a left-wing media was in the pocket of the government and doing its bidding on Covid and much more. The attacks hit hard and right-of-centre politicians — especially now deputy prime minister Winston Peters — seized on it as evidence of media duplicity.

“The media whether collectively or individually failed to defend itself or the PIJF. The debacle has done damage according to the JMAD survey, adding to a sense that the established news media is in cahoots with government and not representing readers.

“That isn’t the case of course but the damage is done and the media needs to fix it fast.”

This is the problem with those involved in the media. Peter Bale (who helped conceive the PIJF) has put an interesting twist on his argument. Firstly, his comment in the extract above “The fact, rightly in my view, that the money was also contingent on respect for The Treaty of Waitangi,” is very telling. On one level, it is an open admission that the PIJF was subject to conditions. On another level, it gives justification to those opposed to how the PIJF was used to sway MSM bias, or messaging.

Reviewing the political views of NZ journalists shows potential bias in the media’s political leanings, which reflected how they constructed their news coverage. This is evident not only after Covid and the introduction of the PIJF, but probably also well before then. (see: Worlds of Journalism Study 2.0. Journalists in Aotearoa/ New Zealand)

Bryce Edwards said in his article  “What’s to blame for the public’s plummeting trust in the media?” (9 April 2024), “In terms of bias, there’s some interesting evidence about the self-declared ideological leanings of journalists in Massey University’s Worlds of Journalism survey in 2022. It found that about two-thirds (65 per cent) of journalists identify as being leftwing, 23 per cent call themselves centrists, and 12 per cent say that are right wing.”

In other words, most journalists are left leaning, which then in turn supports the public perception of the media being biased. Once again, we can refer to the JMAD report.

“Respondents who did not trust the media were asked what factors had reduced their trust:

  • 87 per cent believed the news was “biased and unbalanced”
  • 82 per cent believed news reflected the political leaning of the newsroom
  • 76 per cent regarded news as “too opinionated, lacking in actual information”.

Interestingly, Peter Bale interpreted the issue differently when he wrote, “New Zealand media is far from alone in facing these problems, yet the industry struggles to openly reflect on what it might be able to do itself to listen to audiences and consider changes that might rebuild trust. It is also true, however, that a wave of political leaders and those who might gain from sowing doubt about the media has infected New Zealand discourse at least as much as it has the United States.”

In other words, it has nothing to do with New Zealand journalists, but right-wing politicians in New Zealand and the United States (note, I did not vote for ACT or NZ First, nor am I a Trump supporter). He firstly, and not too subtly, provides an ACT post, then provides another one from, and I quote the comment from NY Times Pitchbot

Once again, the inference is that begrudgingly, the New York Times may have to give more access to conservative views, even if they are right wing conspirators. Implication, all conservatives are nutters. Thus, Peter Bale and other writers of his ilk, still cling to the belief they are not the problem, but conservative, far right people and political parties like ACT and NZ First (ala Winston Peters), who are the problem. The message has not got through. There are many reasons for the decline of MSM, including changing viewer needs, perspectives, and attitudes, to the sentiment outlined above about bias in MSM playing a major part in the decline.

Curia also polled people on how they perceived the actual media outlets:

NZ Herald rated as NZ’s most politically balanced media outlet

Expressed differently, public perception has become reality, but the media cannot, and will not believe it, or see it. I leave the last word to Bryce Edwards and Heather du Plessis Allan:

“But will those in the media accept their faults, or just blame others?

“Last year I talked to a head of one of the top media outlets in the country, during which I asked about the public’s perception of bias at the company, and whether they thought it was a problem that their media company was perceived in a certain way. I was surprised to hear that this was news to them – they said that they had never received such feedback. They weren’t denying that this might be a problem, just that they had never been told this before.

“Sometimes institutions and those in them suffer from “living in a bubble,” and can get out of sync with the public mood. This is a major problem if it’s true, as playwright Arthur Miller once said, “A good newspaper, I suppose, is a nation talking to itself.” Instead, it might be alleged that journalists are just talking to themselves and other elites, and when they talk to the nation, they are talking down to them.

“Similarly, Heather du Plessis Allan says that she thinks that journalists and broadcasters will simply reject this latest landmark survey and the notion that the media has a trust problem: “I genuinely think newsrooms up and down this country don’t believe this is true. That is my experience of talking to editors in various media. They don’t see it, or they do and they make excuses.” (Dr Bryce Edwards, What’s to blame for the public’s plummeting trust in the media? – 9 April, 2024)

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