The Edelman Trust survey suggests that trust in the media has increased. Want make it a lasting trend? Take example from family doctors and schoolteachers

Best thing about trust is that it reduces complexity. Let me give you an old-fashioned example here. Imagine yourself getting married. You buy a house and a Golden Retriever but spend every single day wondering whether you can trust your wife (I did warn you it is an old-fashioned, sexist example put here to subconsciously reinforce traditional gender roles and preserve patriarchal social structures). 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So imagine yourself living in constant fear of finding out ‘the thing’. One day you finally find out your partner has been cheating on you and end up wondering if you can ever fully trust your cheating spouse again. The cycle of lying and distrust repeats itself over and over until your divorce is final.

Imagine another marriage with your wife still cheating but you reacting differently. Instead of running around in circles, tearing your hair out or hiring a private detective to tail her you trust her and live happily ever after. If truth does come out eventually you start with a clean slate, accept the apologies and know that trust will heal in time and things will get better.

Well, you don’t actually need yoga or Zen (or whatever it is that works for you) to get the idea – trust simplifies everything. You propose, you buy a house and a Golden Retriever, you have kids and keep living your life based on unconditional love, acceptance and trust. Because it is easier for everyone.

Same thing works with societies. As Niklas Luhmann puts it in his ‘Trust and Power’, trust is a mechanism for reducing social complexity. When attributed to relations within and between social groups, trusting behavior allows more alternatives for action in the face of risk and uncertainty. Question is, how do you build trust?

In Luhmann’s theory, in order to be persistent trusting behavior presupposes that the previous stages of familiarity and confidence do not lapse into disappointments. Now, for the media world that’s certainly a hard thing to do.

Few years ago British Journalism Review conducted a survey of public confidence finding our trust (in journalism and in general) in decline.

In September 2010 Roy Greenslade in his blog for the Guardian said that ‘according to a survey conducted by YouGov for Pospect Magazine, there has been a noticeable slide in public trust of journalists since 2003′.

However, latest survey by Edelman Trust (brilliantly analyzed by Polly Curtis in her Reality Check last week) revealed that ‘while people in the UK are increasingly skeptical about politicians and business leaders, the opposite is true of the media’.

Media world has gone through many ups and downs and when figures like these go up you can safely expect them to go down in a month or two (should Operation Elvenden, for example, bring us more unexpected facts and revelations). As Alan Rusbridger said in his Hugo Young Lecture back in 2005, ‘all surveys on trust in British newspapers make gloomy reading’.

What is more important is that should the expectations lapse into disappointments reduction of social complexity would happen in the form of distrust, and while media world is being shaken again I bet family doctors and schoolteachers still top the list of most trusted professions as they did in 2008. What is it about these people that makes us trust them? Well, the answer is far too obvious – they don’t lie and don’t break the law. Now just follow the good advice you are given, and drink your remedy in silence and tranquility.

PS. Thanks to Alex!

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We might not have less money by 2020s but can end up being a bit less democratic

David Cameron, whose party, according to Electoral Commission analysis, gets more than half of its donations from the City, seeks ‘responsible capitalism’. Meanwhile, Ed Miliband provides us with another load of perfectly recyclable paper but still finds it difficult to come up with a big idea. So let’s face it – speeches and papers don’t make much difference in times when politicians are failing to back them with an appropriate action. For a person brought up in post-Soviet Russia it is a really hard thing to say but… do we really need Karl Marx to sort it all out?

Allegra Stratton wrote a brilliant article for the Guardian earlier this week saying ‘both parties in the coalition subscribe to the ideas of Joseph Schumpeter’. Now fooling-around-mode off. Can mock Ed Miliband later. Question is how long is the list of Schumpeter’s ideas the coalition has put their names to and weather this list is being updated or not?

Stepping in to ‘save capitalism from its purest version of itself’, taking ‘action on executive pay’ and ‘ending City short-termism’ may be only one part of the picture. What lies behind these things is known as Mark II theory.

Mark II was developed when Schumpeter was a professor at Harvard and is based on the idea that the agents that drive our economy are large companies (not the entrepreneur-spirit as Mark I theory stated). Large companies have resources and capital so they can invest in research and development and encourage economic growth. This growth makes large companies even larger and stronger and eventually allows them to ‘gain monopolies’. That’s where it all comes to what Marx (and later Schumpeter) called ‘creative destruction’.

Free-market theory calls it ‘downsizing’, Cameron calls it ‘responsible capitalism’ but no matter which way you look at it, it does have some political outcomes.

Another Schumpeter’s big idea was to make ‘rule by the people’ concept both unlikely and undesirable, to reduce it to competition between political leaders. Although you still need periodic elections to legitimize governments and keep them somehow accountable, you don’t put people first.

In this kind of society you don’t need too much ‘intellectuals’ (and you raise tuition fees to cut their number down), you don’t need protesters (so you can safely let police evict them from outside St Paul’s Cathedral). Actually, come to think of it, all you do is cut some bonuses, kick bank regulation into 2019 and hope by that time we won’t face bankruptcy. Truth is, we might not have less money by 2020s but all of a sudden we can end up being a bit less democratic.

PS. Thanks to Alex!

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Filkin report needs an adequate response from the media

A report on ethical issues arising from the relationship between police and the media, released last week by the former parliamentary commissioner for standards, Elizabeth Filkin, is set to provide clear guidance for the MPS and achieve transparency of contact but is it really enough to create a good working relationship?

Although, as Filkin puts it, the tasks of the police and the media on occasions may conflict, these two need each other as much as we need them to provide us security and information respectively. The problem is, last July, in the midst of the evolving drama, it has become clear that sometimes, in certain and very specific circumstances it is better to have them both tied in a knot of contradictions rather than see them covering each other up. Given a story that the police did not wish to uncover we ended up running a sort of an error scenario with no option left but to click the flashing antivirus icon.

Simon Jenkins may call it the ‘most humble day’ (see p.8 of the report) but Rupert Murdoch’s phone-hacking apology ad was more of a badly acted Epic theatre performance than a good old cathartic moment. The whole thing itself was complicated and complex and after careful investigation, even more complicated issues have arisen.

Filkin’s report gets it right. The MPS has not communicated effectively enough (Key finding 1 of the report), it has not taken enough notice of some greatest ethical challenges (Key finding 3) and the contact itself has not been sufficiently transparent. (Key finding 4).

Of course, proposals made from the findings are not that indisputable and, as Duncan Campbell warns, might (or might not) become ‘a wonderful excuse to keep the media even more firmly at arm’s length’ but having these things set up in a group of clearly worded core principles will surely be helpful for both senior officers and those who are on the front line.

However, in order to see a new working relationship come to life we need to have both sides trying. Filkin is really being soft on us. Alcohol, late-night carousing, flirting, pretending we know something when we don’t, pretending we heard someone saying something when we didn’t. So yes, that’s what journalism is all about. Smile, you are on candid tape recorder.

Police officers equipped with pocket editions of ‘Top Ten Dirty Tactics They Use to Get a Story Out of You’ is the last thing we want to end up having. So shall we now come up with a set of our own principles? Shall we sit down and at least give it thought? Of course, not all of us are that evil but there are plenty of those who are ready to break the rules, and even the law, where to do so isn’t even close to being in the public interest.

Now, after Filkin’s report has been warmly accepted by the new commissioner, Bernard Hogan-Howe, the media world is yet to come up with an adequate response.

PS. Thanks to Nicky and Alex! You have helped a lot.

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