A diverse team of three journalists gathered to discuss the growing epidemic of distrust in news media. They suggested multiple ways we can regain public trust.
In an age where information is being thrown at us from all angles, disinformation is becoming the norm. From deep fakes to biased information, doubt about news reporting has become a lot more common. Media skepticism is a threat to democracy – and the panelists say it is our job as journalists to heal this wound. We can do this by providing further transparency, connecting with our communities and educating the public.
Panelist Fred Brown is a retired member of SPJ’s Standards and Ethics Committee. He said non-biased media should no longer be exceptional, “it should be part of the culture of journalism.”
The panel emphasized that the main cause of media distrust is the belief that all news outlets are presenting biased information. News consumers can no longer distinguish facts from opinions because the two are often incredibly intertwined. The lack of distinction leads some consumers to believe that a news organization is presenting their opinions as fact, even if this was not their intention.
So, how can the average news consumer navigate a world where news and opinions intermix? And what can we as journalists do to overcome this growing infection of public distrust?
Transparency in the news organizations’ goals, sources, and values is key in gaining public trust. There are numerous ways to provide more transparency for your organization, but the panelists emphasized the importance of a strong, accessible code of ethics.
Having an accessible code of ethics that defines what an organization stands for, its methods for gathering information, and its goals for promoting accurate journalism is essential. Having a page on your website detailing sources and where the information is coming from is the key to gaining credibility and consumer trust.
Ensuring that opinions and facts are clearly distinguishable in your newspaper or broadcast is another way to provide transparency for your consumers. The presenters outlined that this can be done by clearly labeling opinion pieces and hard news – giving people a visual separation between the two. This makes it easier for the public to identify what news is supposed to be biased and what news isn’t.
The last thing a media organization wants is for its audience to feel like they don’t have a voice, which is why creating a community with the audience is essential in gaining their trust. News consumers need to know that they are not invisible to the journalist community they rely on for their information.
Community connection can be achieved in a variety of ways. Some of the easiest are providing surveys for the public about what your organization can improve on. Or, having outreach questions to see what kind of coverage people want to see more of. Both of these can be incorporated into your organization’s website so they are easily accessible to news consumers.
However, transparency and community connection do not matter if your consumers do not know how to engage with the resources provided to them, which is why education about media literacy is essential.
According to the panelists, the best way to craft a culture of media literacy is to start early – which means incorporating it directly into school curriculums. Panelist Brown states that as early as someone can read they should be taught media literacy skills.
Teaching students how to discern real and fake news early on is key in getting them to use these skills throughout their lives. Rod Hicks, director of the SPJ Ethics and Diversity Committee, states from picture books to breaking news, you should be able to “know what you’re reading.”
The producer of the documentary “Trusted Sources” Dan Colanico also served on the panel.