The State of Press Freedom and 7 Ways to Support Journalists
World Press Freedom Day is coming up on May 3. This year’s theme is “Information as a Public Good.”
According to UNESCO, WPFD 2021 will highlight three topics:
- steps to ensure the economic viability of news media;
- mechanisms for ensuring transparency of internet companies;
- enhanced media and information literacy capacities that enable people to recognize and value, as well as defend and demand, journalism as a vital part of information as a public good.
Journalists are responsible for keeping the public informed so they can participate in democratic life. They also hold public officials accountable. Unfortunately, a recent study found some Americans do not support these journalistic values. The study from the Media Insight Project found that “when journalists say they are just doing their jobs, the problem is many people harbor doubts about what the job should be.”
The major issues of 2020 – the COVID-19 pandemic, racial reckonings across industries, and a contentious presidential election – have carried over into 2021, and with them comes a continuing wave of attacks on the press.
Let’s look at the current state of press freedom and how journalists can encourage their readers to support the industry.
State of the Media and Press Freedom
Cision surveyed nearly 3,000 journalists in 15 countries for our 2021 State of the Media survey.
Among the takeaways:
- Public trust in the media has steadily improved over the last five years but is still a major challenge. While U.S. reporters were the most likely to report a loss in public trust in the last year, they were also somewhat optimistic that this trend will improve going forward.
- Censorship remains a significant concern. Nearly half of all journalists predict a continued deterioration of press freedom over the next three years.
- 53% of journalists feel the public lost trust in the media over the last year. That number has been going down year over year, but it’s clearly still a pressing issue. The good news? Thirty-six percent of respondents feel the new administration will help the public gain trust in the media.
2021 World Press Freedom Index
The 2021 World Press Freedom Index seems to be confirming that last bullet point. According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), “The first 100 days of Joseph R. Biden’s presidency saw healthy improvements to government accountability and transparency.”
In the 2021 index, the U.S. moved up one spot to #44. That small improvement was despite a particularly troubling year during former President Trump’s final year in office. In 2020, there were nearly 400 journalists assaulted and more than 130 detained – unprecedented numbers, according to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker.
Despite the small improvement, there’s still a long way to go. RSF explains, “As with any patient, however, while the most obvious symptoms of an ailing democracy may have cleared up, many chronic, underlying conditions — from the disappearance of local news to the ongoing and widespread distrust of mainstream media — remain.”
And those “symptoms” are showing up around the world. In addition to journalists being arrested (and charged with crimes) in the U.S., a “censorship virus” is spreading beyond China (ranked fourth to last on this year’s index). Recent months have also seen crackdowns on press freedom in Myanmar, Malaysia, and the Netherlands, to name just a few.
How Readers Can Show Support for Reporters on May 3 (and Beyond)
- Educate yourself. How can you effectively support press freedom if you don’t really have a grasp on what it entails? Take this press freedom quiz and brush up on the laws and history.
- Subscribe. Publishers are increasingly focused more on driving revenue via subscriptions. Some outlets are even considering – and getting backlash for – adjusting journalists’ pay based on how many subscriptions they drive. So subscribe to newsletters, get digital subscriptions, or choose whatever option works for you.
- Highlight great reporting. See a well-reported article? Let others know about it by sharing it via your social media accounts. Email it to friends and family. Share it with coworkers via Slack. Give hardworking, dedicated journalists recognition.
- Call out threats. Shoutouts shouldn’t only be on one end of the spectrum. Responsible media consumers should also shine a light on incidents that are working against the free press.
- Donate. If you choose not to subscribe, consider donating to an organization that’s dedicated to supporting a free press. Poynter has a handy list of press freedom organizations.
- Place an ad. Publishers’ ad revenues took a hit during the pandemic, but are expected to rebound in 2021. Readers can help aid that rebound by placing ads for their businesses, events, job openings, etc.
- Don’t forget your local media. It’s easy to immediately think of the big national outlets when considering a subscription. But local media needs the support and should not be overlooked. Not only are local outlets a critical source of trusted information that may not be covered by national outlets, but supporting local media is just good for business.
In her newsletter from mid-March, Mandy Hofmockel spoke with Ross Maghielse, the director of digital programming and audience development at The Philadelphia Inquirer. Maghielse said, “Journalism is a small industry, figuratively and increasingly literally. I view our biggest competition as indifference to what we do, not somebody else doing it well.”
Don’t be indifferent.
As our own team said in a Press Freedom Day post several years ago, “While the media landscape is complex, the right to a free press should be simple.”
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Rocky Parker is the manager of Audience Relations at PR Newswire. Check out her previous posts for Beyond Bylines. When she’s not working, Rocky typically can be found cooking, binge-watching a new show, or playing with her puppy, Hudson.