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The Trust Issue in Italy

Millennials Wary of Corrupt Media Reporting

Mario Calabresi

The issue of trust and the credibility of journalism in Italy is particularly serious; in recent years a deep divide has been created between the legacy media and an important part of public opinion, especially that of the Millennials. Information, which for twenty years was the great accuser of political power and recounted its scandals and briberies every day, in the end has been regarded a part of the political game and has come under fire. 

In Italy there is a political party, the 5 Star Movement, founded by former comedian Beppe Grillo, who has - among the first points of his agenda - the accusation of the media as being part of and dependent upon political power. This party does not have physical offices, lives the web, depends on the blog of its leader, and today is the second political force in Italy (the first among those who are 18 to 29 years old), with a quarter of the seats in Parliament. Every day he denounces - wrongly or rightly - the conflict of interests within the media. He carried out a long campaign to expose the subsidizing of newspapers by the government, which largely is a false issue. This “support” to the newspapers has been over for almost ten years but today the majority of young people are convinced that it still exists, and are therefore suspicious of newspapers. 
 
Thus there is a real problem of communication between young people and the legacy media, who understand each other less and less every day. The legacy media talk a lot about young people but never with young people. 
 
I asked seven people from the media world, all very different from each other, to analyze the problem, and I gathered the latest surveys in Italy which have studied trust in journalism. From the results that emerge it is clear that there are a number of editorial problems to be faced with courage: changing the agenda, paying less attention to power and more attention to the problems of citizens; reducing rhetoric and emphasis, writing in a manner that is clear and less self-centered. But a number of items also emerge which can help build a set of quality guidelines, capable of reconstructing a mechanism of trust, and which can be of use within the scope of the Trust Project. 

 
The Questions: 
1)  Can we talk about a crisis of trust? And if so, when did it begin? 
2)  What are the defects of Italian journalism that fatigued and alienated readers? 
3)   Is it possible to regain the trust of reader-citizens? 
4)  In what way? What steps should be taken to give signs of credibility? 
5)  Do you think that being part of an organized journalistic structure can still be recognized as valuable? 
 
Gianni Riotta, born 1954; journalist, writer, former editor in chief of TG1 and of the daily newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore. Visiting professor at Princeton University. 
 
1)  Can we talk about a crisis of trust? And if so, when did it begin? 
The fall of the influence of the classic daily press, in the United States, dates back to 1974 (calculated for my book “Does the Web make us free?”) or 1972, according to estimates by Hal Varian from Google. A generation before the Web. In Europe, around 1985 (averaged from various countries), again before the domination of the Web. Why? Because the transition from a world of masses, in the twentieth century, to a world of individuals, in the twenty-first century, makes mass communication - as studied by McLuhan and Habermas - obsolete, and makes the public keen for grassroots information: ad hoc, direct, individual. Before the web - as always in media revolutions - there was demand but no supply; the web offers supply and thus the crisis of traditional media is inescapable. The web didn’t trigger it; it only allowed it to erupt. 
 
2)  What are the defects of Italian journalism that fatigued and alienated readers? 
Too many ties to power, too many topics of discussion that leave people alienated, too much attention to the agendas of tiny groups and indifference to the common discourse. 
The major defect is the vice of a journalism that thinks it is giving lessons, getting on a soapbox and explaining the world to silent readers who do not have the possibility or the capacity to critique. 
 
3)  Is it possible to regain the trust of reader-citizens? 
It is not easy. Because the problem is not only about journalists, unfortunately. The crisis of confidence in authority at the end of the twentieth century also besieged religion, the economy, culture, and politics. Basically after the 60’s the principle of authority was negated, with the absurd result that, for example, on medical matters (such as vaccines) science is constantly put in doubt. 
The media should not preach but PRACTICE tolerance, dialogue, ideas and listening. 
 
4)  In what way? What steps should be taken to give signs of credibility? 
Transparency, dialogue and listening. 
 
5)  Do you think that being part of an organized journalistic structure can still be recognized as valuable? 
I hope so, but I am afraid it will be hard. Newspapers have broken the thread that tied them to the readers; they are prisoners of a self-referential world, focused on issues that interest few people: politicians, leaders, academics and journalists. It would require a moral and cultural shift before a professional or industry-driven change. A return to belief in communication, not in propaganda or rancor. 
A young colleague with whom I work now on TV, on the topic of my old preaching to be attentive to all points of view, said “But if you do not want reports that say Black or White, you want us to make them gray!" Twenty years of populism and hyper-partisanship have produced this ignorance: I said to her that no, we are not dogs who see in black, white, or gray, we are not color-blind - but we should do our reporting with all the colors of the rainbow, no one excluded. 
 
 Beppe Severgnini (1956) is one of the most famous Italian journalists, he was the correspondent from Italy for The Economist between 1996 and 2003 and now he is a columnist for Corriere della Sera. 
 
1)  Can we talk about a crisis of trust? And if so, when did it begin? 
The crisis of trust began with the Internet and satellite television: readers and viewers, suddenly, understood the limits of public television and traditional media. The variety brought euphoria, the euphoria was followed by confusion, and to confusion was added distrust. The healthy skepticism of the reader, with the advent of the social media, became aggressive cynicism. 
 
2)  What are the defects of Italian journalism that fatigued and alienated readers? 
Hypocrisy: saying one thing and doing another. 
Subservience: the focus on power (political, economic, financial) slides often into complicity and lack of courage. 
Rhetoric: writing things that even we don’t believe. 
Emphasis: every event is always the news of the year for the current week. 
Unnecessary complexity: many events are explained poorly. 
 
3)  Is it possible to regain the trust of reader-citizens? 
It will be difficult, but we must try. 
 
4)  In what way? What steps should be taken to give signs of credibility? 
Some newspapers and some names enjoy a certain respect even from those who attack them. It is from here that we have to start, remembering that "our only boss is the reader." This means earning readers’ interest: by explaining, summarizing, and anticipating. In a single word: be useful. 
 
5)  Do you think that being part of an organized journalistic structure can still be recognized as valuable? 

I think so. A newspaper is a guarantee. If it ceases to be, it will soon cease to exist. 
 

Juan Carlos De Martin (1966) is an Italian academic. He is an Associate Professor at the DAUIN (Department of Control and Computer Engineering) of the Polytechnic of Turin, where he co-founded and directs the Nexa Center for Internet and Society. Since 2011, he is a Berkman Faculty Fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University 
 
1)  Can we talk about a crisis of trust? And if so, when did it begin? 
A certain amount of no-confidence has always been there; readers have always suspected a conflict of interests among journalists, editors and owners, not to mention the influence of advertisers. This distrust can only be reduced, not eliminated. 

That said, the decline of great ideological tensions of the 20th century has certainly had an influence, causing a decline in interest and a general increase in the level of cynicism of the people. 

The progressive deterioration of democracy in the past 30 years has inevitably diminished the role of newspapers as a counter-power, and therefore also the interest and trust of readers. 
 
2)  What are the defects of Italian journalism that fatigued and alienated readers? 
1. Fact checking that is too weak. 
2. Excessive emphasis. 
3. A purposefully inaccurate, emphatic, misleading use of words, especially in headlines. 
4. Lack of capacity to analyze and deconstruct, in a documented and rational way, the "spin" from governments and companies. 
5. No ability to withstand the "agenda" suggested by the television media and politics. 
 
3)  Is it possible to regain the trust of reader-citizens? 
Certainly. By offering quality. And by focusing a lot on values, on a high ideal of society, for which there is a great hunger, even among young people. 
 
4)  In what way? What steps should be taken to give signs of credibility? 
1. Establish a public advocate for the reader, responding directly to conflicts of interest (at all levels), missing fact-checking, neglected topics. 
2. A Charter of Rights of the reader, making clear the ethical principles that inspired the newspaper and the method by which it operates. 
3. Continue to rely on professional journalists for information, news, and current events, but use more experts for analysis. 
 
5)  Do you think that being part of an organized journalistic structure can still be recognized as valuable? 
Certainly. However, we should first of all think of the newspaper as an institution. And then handle all that a big institution does: caring for our tradition, team spirit, moral foundations, and awards, considering every error as something serious that affects the reputation of the institution. 
The reader wants to be able to trust. It is a wonderful thing, to trust, and many are even willing to pay in order to be able trust. 
 

Massimo Russo (1965) Deputy Editor-in-Chief of La Stampa; he was formerly Editor-in-Chief of the Italian edition of Wired. 

 
1)  Can we talk about a crisis of trust? And if so, when did it begin? 
Yes, even before the Internet, but is with the Internet that it became visible. 
Since the Nineties the decline of copies has never stopped, and now we sell fewer newspapers than they were selling before the Second World War, even though there were 16 million fewer people and illiteracy was rampant. The newspapers in Italy have always been perceived as self-referential and close to those in power, rather than as a service the reader. The Internet broke the balance and made other choices possible. On one hand by disrupting the newspaper tradition, and by shattering the business model that kept news, reports, hierarchy, and publicity as a single entity. On the other hand, by substituting abundance for scarcity: it is no longer the news that is scarce, but the attention of potential readers. The economic crisis did the rest, which is whythe rate of decline in copies has doubled. 

 
2)  What are the defects of Italian journalism that fatigued and alienated readers? 
-          Too much politics and not enough facts 
-          Very little service to the reader 
-          Excessive subservience to power 
-          Excessive conformity among the sources of information 
 
3)  Is it possible to regain the trust of reader-citizens? 
Yes, by re-establishing the pact with those who we oncewould have called readers 
 
4)  In what way? What steps should be taken to give signs of credibility? 
·  Transparency: admitting what is known, what is still unknown, and what we hope to know 
· Who are the journalists: ethics statements and online coverage policies, conflicts of interest 
· Sausage making (declaring the methods used, how investigations of a particular importance were conducted), inviting readers into the kitchen 
· Make better choices (do fewer things and do them better), adding value 
· Encourage quality dialogue with readers, promoting a forum of discussion 
· Policy on corrections 
 
5)  Do you think that being part of an organized journalistic structure can still be recognized as valuable? 
Certainly, for: 
· Circulation of thought 
· Capacity to develop a vision 
· Economic and political force to be a real counter-power 

Carola Frediani(1977)is social media editor at La Stampa and co-founder of the media agency Effecinque. She writes on technology, digital culture, privacy, and hacking, for a variety of publications. 
 
1)  Can we talk about a crisis of trust? And if so, when did it begin? 
It has existed for years and has increased lately. It would be easy to say it coincides with the rise of the Web in Italy, from the millennium onwards, when readers of the paper suddenly discovered that information (regardless of the type or quality of information) could be found online for free in many places. 
However there are specific Italian features, in the crisis of trust, which date back even earlier and have to do with the crisis of Italian politics and the citizens' distrust of the political class. Newspapers and journalists have been equated - sometimes wrongly and often rightly – with the political class. But instead of understanding it and taking countermeasures, for years a vicious cycle continued to be fueled by a very self-referential media. 
 

2)  What are the defects of Italian journalism that fatigued and alienated readers? 

Self-centeredness focused on politics or rather the politicians; the tendency to not explain, taking context for granted. 
Too many opinions and not enough facts. 
 
3)  Is it possible to regain the trust of reader-citizens? 
 
4)  In what way? What steps should be taken to give signs of credibility? 
I would say (and I hope) yes, but only by accepting some ideas that are easy to state, but much harder to put into practice: 
- Decide what you want to be and be so with authority (be it Buzzfeed or the Guardian, but if you decide to be the Guardian you shouldn’t be “buzzfeeding”) 
- To plan more. I think that newspapers have a tendency to move at a speed that follows the news, and have not learned well to make targeted editorial projects. 
- Create a community: journalists and newspapers, instead of being perceived as a caste, should be heard as centers of aggregation in terms of ideas, information and civic engagement. We would then need journalistic projects in which citizens can be involved. 
 
5)  Do you think that being part of an organized journalistic structure can still be recognized as valuable? 
It seems to me that readers, especially those that follow a certain theme, now tend to rely much more on individual journalists as opposed to the newspaper. But the organized journalistic structure is of great value for the production of good journalism. 
It is important to give the sense that behind a work or a project, there was a collective effort, of which the newspaper is the highest expression. 
 

Anna Masera (1960) studied journalism at Columbia University; one of the Italian pioneers of the internet and the first social media editor of a newspaper in Italy, she is now head of communications of the Chamber of Deputies 
 
1)  Can we talk about a crisis of trust? And if so, when did it begin? 
Criticism and skepticism also existed prior to the Internet. Readers have always been, by definition, a shrewd and skeptical public regarding newspapers and journalists; even when they were an esteemed category, taking them to task was a favorite pastime. 
In Italy, unlike countries with “Anglo-Saxon” journalism, the party newspapers are always flanked by those with industrial ownership and no newspaper can boast independent publishers. Few Italian newspapers have practiced a journalism that separates facts from opinions and all this has created a climate of general distrust. 
 
2)  What are the defects of Italian journalism that fatigued and alienated readers? 
The self-centeredness; the lack of independence, the lack of a spirit of service, and the lack of self-critique; the inability to listen, the search for inflamed sensationalism, the absence of fact-checking. 
 
3)  Is it possible to regain the trust of reader-citizens? 
Yes: there has never been so much hunger for quality news and information, the potential is huge. 
But to the crisis of confidence mentioned above, has been added the Internet tsunami of the past 15 years. And the scandal of electronic wiretapping in “Big Brother-style” - by WikiLeaks to the NSA - which (because of its technical nature is not easily understood by a traditional media lacking this competence) saw the computer expert “whistleblowers” replacing journalists in exposing the inconvenient truths of power. 
 
4)  In what way? What steps should be taken to give signs of credibility? 
Focus on skills: in the digital era, we need a serious investment in digital skills, not only social media editors, but also data journalists and fact checkers and visual designers and mobile experts and expert hackers in information technology: these are skills that that are not improvised, if they are not on the market then we need refresher courses - Provide a public advocate of the readers; we need a "Public Editor"! 
 
5)  Do you think that being part of an organized journalistic structure can still be recognized as valuable? 
Yes! But we need AWARENESS, a desire to innovate and experiment continuously until winning recipes are found in new media; we must shake off the dead weight. 
 

Arianna Ciccone (1970) is the founder of the Perugia International Journalism Festival and of the website Valigia Blu (Blue Suitcase). 
 
1)  Can we talk about a crisis of trust? And if so, when did it begin? 
Yes, it was only a matter of time. The network and social media only gave the final push. From 2010 to 2013, Italian newspapers have lost 3 and a half million readers. Who are they? 2.6 million readers are between 14 and 44 years old. (Source FIEG: Italian Publishers Association) 
 
2)  What are the defects of Italian journalism that fatigued and alienated readers? 
First of all an unhealthy obsession with politics, then a loss of quality and credibility, and the inability to question or discuss. 
 
3)  Is it possible to regain the trust of reader-citizens? 
Yes, even if it is very late in the game. But it takes commitment, humility and a desire to put yourself into a discussion and to listen. And it means not considering most people as just "readers" – they are much more. The correction of errors is fundamental, done in a clear and transparent way. 
 
4)  In what way? What steps should be taken to give signs of credibility? 
It requires transparency, independence, a capacity for dialogue and discussion. Quality of content and the ability to open up to "those who were once the public" and who are now active participants in the information ecosystem. 
 
5)  Do you think that being part of an organized journalistic structure can still be recognized as valuable? 
I’ll tell you the truth: today, as far as I’m concerned, the unfortunate answer is no. 
 

At the end of July the Valigia Blu website (founded and run by Arianna Ciccone) conducted a very interesting survey on trust in journalism in its community, from which 1,000 people responded, and many of them young people (18-29 years: 25%; 30-39: 32%; 40-49: 20%) 

http://www.valigiablu.it/? p=25108&shareadraft=baba25108_55c449dec7eaa 
 

The panel is not representative of the Italian population, but it represents a younger, internet-savy, highly educated, tendentially liberal audience. 

The survey shows that the primary source of news is social media and that the information is primarily mobile.  

 
To the question: "What should the priorities of journalism be?" 
The top three responses were: "journalism with depth"; "Journalism that is free from political influence" and "journalism that is open to criticism, that knows how to apologize." 
 
To the question "What kind of information are you more interested in?" 
The top three responses were: depth; fact-checking, and data journalism. 
 
To the question "What issues should Italian journalism deal with the least?" 
The main responses were: gossip and politics. 
 
To the final question: "If you could request one thing from Italian journalism, what would you ask?" 
Respondents were able to freely write their request; these are the six words which were the most common: 
1) Facts: meaning political impartiality; reliable, quoted sources; not reporting a single fact but providing the context and the history of the event in a precise and essential manner. 
2) Independence: together with integrity. 
3) Honesty: abandoning sensationalism and telling only what is true, with depth, respect and professionalism. 
4). Seriousness: information that is verified. 
5).Professionalism: taking responsibility for any errors, avoiding the race to see who comes first and who makes the most noise. Scrupulous control of sources. 
6). Verification: precise and verified news. 
 
 
I think that is also very interesting the research of Lella Mazzoli, Director of the Institute of Journalistic Training of Urbino and Professor of Sociology of Communication at the University of Urbino, on young people and information: it shows the collapse of the newspaper as a primary source of information and the domination of the Internet. From 2011 to the present, consumption of newspapers by young people has gone from 65% to 41%. If this continues, in the space of five years the newspaper will disappear completely from the information diet of young people. 
 
RESEARCH: YOUNG PEOPLE AND INFORMATION 
SOME DATA FROM THE ITALIAN NEWS OBSERVATORY 
Connective Intelligence Workshop                        Lella Mazzoli 
Rome, April 10, 2014  mazzoli@uniurb.it twitter: @lellamazzoli 
 
Youth and opinions on information 
YOUTH (18-29):        TOTAL SAMPLE: 
 

n=152                n=1013 
87%            83% 
agree or strongly agree that today most information sources are biased 
 

62%            52% 
receive news from sources that do not have a particular point of view 
Attitude: "critical" – disillusioned 
 
  
Youth and social media 
YOUTH (18-29):        TOTAL SAMPLE: 
n=152                n=1013 
50%            32% 
get news from a journalist or information broadcaster followed on Facebook 
 

64%            47% 
get news from friends, family and colleagues followed on Facebook 
 
sources on Facebook have greater legitimacy and authority? 
 
 
At the end I collect the most interesting data from AGCOM (Italian Communications Authority) - Economic statistical service 
1) Trust is based on the credibility that each newspaper editorial is able to instill in readers. Table 27 shows data on consumer preferences with regard to information which tends to be "impartial / neutral", which means it meets the traditional rules of verification, as opposed to that which is "biased", and the comparison between the importance given to the individual reporter rather than the newspaper of reference. 
 
 
Table 27 – The credibility of information in Italy 
 Italy        Men        Women    Under45      Over45 
 

“Impartial” source       69%        70%        68%        74%            64% 
“Biased” source        31%        30%        32%        26%            36% 
 

Importance of the journalist: 
  Yes it is important    72%        70%        73%        70%             74% 
  No it isn’t important  10%        10%        11%        11%            10% 
Importance of the newspaper: 
  Yes it is important    66%        69%        64%        57%             75% 
  No it isn’t important  11%        11%        12%        14%            8% 
 

Source: based on authoritative data from Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2014 – YouGov 
 
2) Regardless of gender and age, consumers prefer news as neutral as possible; in this context, the biggest difference is found among young people and adults. 36% of adults compared with 24% of young people prefer biased information. 
 

3) Another element to consider is how public confidence is attributed to a source of information; in particular, the survey compares journalists and the editorial brand. From Table 27 the crucial role played by the individual journalist emerges, which is as important as the newspaper of reference. This evidence is once again the result of the new digital environment. 
 

4) In the past, through traditional means, reliance was more often on the brand instead of the individual journalist; in confirmation of this, the data shows that it is precisely those over 45 who feel that the editorial brand is more important, while among the youngest surveyed, the prevailing tendency is to consider the individual journalist as especially important, much less the newspaper of reference. 
 

5)Whereas at present the information system is based on the work of dissemination to the public, carried out by new and old content publishers, current trends seem to imply the increasing role of the individual journalist. All this is helped by the ease with which it is possible to provide information content. As confirmation of such, an interesting result of this research is that social media amplifies the importance of the individual journalist. This poses another dilemma for editors-in-chief, that on one hand they may promote the reputation of an individual journalist to get more readers on their news sites; on the other hand, readers may become more loyal to journalists and their pages on social media, than to the editorial brand, with the journalists themselves becoming the brand. 

 
6) Figure 104 shows the main sources used to gather information about political issues. The data shows that television and the national daily newspapers, even in online versions, are the main source of information, including for political purposes. Immediately following are the local daily newspapers preceding, just slightly, informal sources such as discussions with friends, relatives and colleagues. 
 
 
Figure 104 – Main sources for political information 
18-44 (under 45) / 45+ (over 45) 
Email11%                    10% 
Social Media24%                    17% 
TV and Radio47%                    62% 
Local Daily Newspapers (including web)30%                    31% 
National Daily Newspapers (including web)44%                    60% 
Friends, Parents, Colleagues 35% / 18% 
 

Source: based on authoritative data from Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2014 – YouGov 
 
7) Interesting differences emerge from the comparison between those over and under 45. Confirming the above, even for information of a political nature, a difference in consumer behavior can be noted; in particular, the youngest people are using less traditional media (television, newspapers), while nearly double the percentage of those under 45 use discussions among friends, relatives, co-workers, and social media as a news source (24% against 17% of older consumers). 

Aug 27, 2015