Journalists are trying to find a way to reverse the public mistrust of the media. That was the focus of one panel at the Excellence in Journalism Conference in Anaheim.
Jane Elizabeth of the American Press Institute says this distrust affects the bottom line for every news organization. She presented her formula for mistrust of media: “I don’t know + I don’t understand you = I don’t trust you.”
“People who trust you as an organization are more likely to buy that organization’s app, pay for subscriptions, subscribe to newsletters and follow on social media,” Elizabeth said. That’s a strong incentive to change ingrained habits.
The media are losing the trust of millions of their readers, viewers and listeners. According to the Pew Research Center, only 54 percent of adults believe national news organizations do their jobs fairly well and 72 percent of adults believe the news media tend to favor one side.
Matthew Hall, editorial and opinion director at the San Diego Union-Tribune and SPJ Region 11 director, attended the panel and said the outbreak of fake news needs to be addressed. Hall said he thought the panel provided good insight.
“Journalists need to listen to people and not to be dismissive when someone says, ‘You’re fake news.’ or ‘That’s fake news.’ and be defensive about it,” Hall said. “We really need to tell people ‘no, this is how we are telling a news story accurately and truthfully’ and have the infrastructure to back it up.”
At a time of intense political divide in the country, Society of Professional Journalists Ethics Chair Andrew Seaman said media consumption habits have changed from the 1950s when television became a dish on the media diet of regular Americans. He said back then things were more structured. There was a limited selection of media with strong editorial processes behind it: the morning paper, a magazine, the evening broadcast.
“Now we have everything all the time,” Seaman said. He added the media did a bad job at preparing audiences in adapting to a new environment of 24/7 news cycles, blogs and social media. Seaman said he spoke to the pollsters behind Pew, Gallup, the American Society of News Editors among others to seek the deeper reason why people don’t trust the media. He said he believes the new media landscape has overwhelmed the public.
Matthew Broughton, a senior broadcast journalism major at Fresno State, agreed with the panelists when they said everyone on Twitter or Facebook thinks he’s a newsperson or journalist. “The most important thing I got from the panel was that people trust more the sharer [of information] than the publisher [of news].”
Sally Lehrman of The Trust Project said the public wants to participate in the news process. For example, if the Latino, immigrant or LGBT communities aren’t represented in a story, they have no reason to read or watch that story. She said getting reporters and producers involved in the community to create stronger relations and regain trust is one solution.
Rebecca Baker, SPJ’s incoming president and deputy head of news for The New York Daily News says she will promote the issue of outreach in the community. She said having journalists speak directly to the people by meeting with community groups, holding public discussions and going into schools to speak to students is essential for the public to see the human face behind the stories.
“The more SPJ and other journalism organizations can promote and foster that, the more we’ll take to regaining the trust of the public,” Baker said about the idea of community outreach.
Elizabeth said helping the audience understand the process of creating news goes hand-in-hand with the notion that a lack of understanding breeds mistrust. Having citations and references linked to government data and other sources used in a story helps regain that trust.
“It’s common sense, but having your bio list your credentials, not how many kids you have is a small thing,” Hall said. “But that’s just one way of how we can teach our readers that we are in this for the right reasons and know what we’re talking about.”
Incorporating components of best practices in your company is yet another solution, Lehrman says. An ethics policy, a commitment to diversity, transparency in ownership structure, funding and grants, a mission statement all help the audience understand the process of a news organization. Letting the public know the organization’s policy on the use of unnamed sources in a story is also important.
Finally, Lehrman said actionable feedback, such as allowing comments or a direct line of communication to the newsroom augments public engagement, which is also something that affects a newsroom’s bottom line.