Keeping it real.

The media's struggling with credibility. Marketers may not be far behind.

HBO’s series The Wire debuted its fifth (and final) season last night. The Wire is a brilliant chronicle of inner city life and the drug trade. And what makes it truly unique is the show’s ability to analyze the myriad connections that contribute to societal problems.

In past seasons, The Wire has looked at lack of opportunity, corruption in city hall, smuggling through port authorities, and the failure of education.

This year, The Wire is focusing on the media. And it brings up an issue of significant interest to marketers: what makes news credible?
Set in Baltimore, the show takes us inside the newsroom of The Baltimore Sun, where the newspaper is struggling to maintain profitability as readers switch to other media. (See New Challenges for Old Media: Newspapers.) People are laid off, budgets are cut, and pressure is put on the staff to write more sensational stories to sell more papers.

Show creator David Simon used to work at the Sun, and over the next few weeks, he’ll certainly take us through an entertaining look at what happens to the people there as pressures mount.

His point is critical: What happens as news quality deteriorates? What impact does that have on the rest of the city and society?

Mark Twain once noted, “I am not the editor of a newspaper. And I shall always try to do right and be good, so that God will not make me one.”

Journalism in general is struggling with a credibility crisis, and newspapers more so than other media. A Pew Research study in 2004 showed that just over half of readers ranked the newspaper they are most familiar with as being “believable.” Even the news sources ranked as “most credible” (CNN, national and local TV news) had believability ratings just over 60 percent.