Posts Tagged ‘Gallup’


Twitter Fight Points to Larger Problem

Photo: Diego Cambiaso

A post on Twitter ignited a discussion Sunday about the type of relationship that exists between President-elect Donald Trump and MSNBC hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski. The specifics of that issue are currently being debated across the news media.

The press should take note of the issue at the heart of this current uproar as it looks to reboot itself in 2017. The issue is the relationships journalists and news media figures sometimes share with politicians and powerbrokers.

Journalists and newsroom leaders historically shared very cozy relationships with politicians, as Scarborough pointed out Monday in The Washington Post. Orthodox followers of the Society’s Code of Ethics should be shocked by the behaviors of journalism’s greatest icons.

Edward R. Murrow left CBS News in 1961 to lead the propaganda arm of the U.S. government for President John Kennedy, as Scarborough points out in his editorial.

History and precedent in this case shouldn’t dictate journalists’ future behaviors, however.

Public behavior during the recent elections and survey results from Gallup showing trust in the news media at historically low levels should be enough to convince journalists and newsroom leaders that business as usual is no longer good business.

News organizations often operate under the theory that their readers, viewers and listeners crave an insider’s perspective on news stories. As a result, opinion pages and airwaves are filled with former politicians and political operatives offering their thoughts on current events.

The problem with this theory is that more and more journalists and news media figures view themselves as insiders and the public on the receiving end of the reports continues to feel like outsiders.

Journalists and newsrooms need to shed their insider perspectives and embrace their intended roles as outsiders and representatives of the public.

Journalists should no longer view themselves as cogs in a large piece of machinery that tries to explain themselves to random bystanders. They should view themselves as bystanders with the tools to explain the machinery to their peers.

Foundational shifts such as the one I suggest are difficult to accomplish, but they are sometimes necessary to strengthen the overall structure. A change of perspective within journalism is long overdue.

The specific steps to shedding the press’s insider perspective are debatable, but the easiest move is to get journalists to interact more with the public.

Newsrooms should consider holding meet-and-greets, open houses and other community events. Journalists can also take it upon themselves to explore unfamiliar neighborhoods and communities.

Journalists should take notice of the people they meet at those events and in communities. Mental pictures and notes of people, their circumstances and daily lives can serve as powerful reminders of the people on the receiving end of news stories.

Journalists will always need to develop and depend on professional relationships with politicians and powerbrokers, but those relationships should have defined boundaries. Journalists should know at all times that they represent the public, which mostly consists of non-politicians.

A shift in perspective won’t happen overnight. Some journalists will also never change their behaviors. Those challenges shouldn’t keep journalism’s practitioners from trying to better the profession and recommit themselves to its noble purpose.


Andrew M. Seaman is the ethics committee chairperson for the Society of Professional Journalists.

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Canary in the Coalmine: Trust in Media Hits New Low

untitledLess than a third of American adults trust the media at least “a fair amount,” according to a new Gallup poll. The finding is the most dismal since Gallup started taking the poll in the 1970s.

More than any other measure or metric, Gallup’s new report should be a proverbial coalmine canary for the media and democracy.

The research company writes that trust in media reached a peak in 1976, when almost three quarters of American adults believed what they read, watched and heard. As Gallup notes, 1976 followed a number of iconic investigative reports on the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal.

In its most recent years, the poll’s findings appear to be cyclical with trust falling most during presidential election years and rebounding slightly during the following three years. The result is a steady decline over several decades.

No single factor explains people’s declining trust in the media. Though, a lot of it – in my opinion – is due to the internet pulling back a curtain on the media starting in the early 2000s. Like food, media is much more palatable when people don’t know what goes into it or how it’s made.

The quantity of media produced also makes the prevalence of mistakes, errors and offenses in media appear greater than in the past. People may have heard about major mistakes or scandals at newspapers or broadcast organizations prior to the internet, but today every piece of media can be picked apart and put on a stake for the world to see.

Another of the many factors influencing trust in media is the current U.S. political climate. People – especially conservatives – feel the media is largely working against their best interests.

While about half of self-identified liberals trust the media at least “a fair amount,” Gallup found trust among conservatives fell to 14 percent – from 32 percent a year ago.

There are no easy remedies to the media’s trust drought, but it needs to be addressed – especially within journalism – for altruistic and business purposes.

First, there is no democracy without a strong and independent press. There is also no democracy if the vast majority of people don’t believe its strong and independent press.

Second, journalism is a business, and truth is its product. If people don’t view stories and reports from the press as the truth, the product is little or no value to consumers and advertisers.

One of the key moves the media must make to build trust is to educate people about itself. People don’t trust what they don’t understand. People in media, media companies and the U.S. education system need to teach people to be educated and critical consumers of media.

Another equally large move that needs to be made specifically within the journalism community is to stop trying to reinvent the core mission of the profession.

As the 2016 presidential election enters its last few weeks of life, critics and commentators continue to call on journalists to invent entirely new approaches to journalism in an effort to cover what is universally seen as unprecedented events.

Journalism does not need a reinvention, however. The profession needs its practitioners to recommit themselves to its core principles, which are outlined in the Society’s Code of Ethics.

The call to commit to those principles may seem out of touch, but at some point people must realize the core mission of journalism is largely unchanged since the dawn of communication.

“While tastes have ebbed and flowed and news has been at times more and less serious, historians have discovered that the basic news values have remained relatively constant throughout time,” write Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel in their book The Elements of Journalism.

What changes in journalism is not the underlying mission or principles, but the delivery systems – from print to broadcast to digital.

Journalists need to be advocates for the truth and shun speculation, innuendos, rumors partisanship and lies. Once reported, it’s up to the public to use that information to make decisions in their daily lives and in voting booths.

The road to rebuilding trust between the media and Americans is long, but it’s a journey journalists, news organizations and media companies must start on if they want to continue doing their work beyond the next few decades.


Andrew M. Seaman is the chairperson of the Society’s ethics committee.

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The price of plagiarism

This post is written by Andrew M. Seaman, who is a member of SPJ’s ethics committee.

The decision by the Knight Foundation to pay Jonah Lehrer, who has admitted fabricating quotes and duplicating material, $20,000 for a speech brought swift ire from many journalists.

I join that disappointed chorus; the Knight Foundation’s choice to use its money in this way is antithetical to its long tradition of advancing the field on so many fronts. But it’s also important to remember that plagiarism and shoddy journalism’s price tag is much higher than $20,000. Thieves and fabricators cost us much more through collateral damage.

Every day, journalists work hard to explain the world. While some of them are bad apples, the vast majority hold true to the Society of Professional Journalists’ first ethical tenet: seek truth and report it.

Admittedly, it’s getting harder and harder to do that, especially with decreasing support from many news organizations that live by the motto: do more with less.

And while most good journalists are recognized internally by their editors and colleagues for their hard work, only a few – Cronkite, Murrow, Woodward and Bernstein – will become household names with the public.

Still, journalists show up each day to do their work and report on everything from local school board meetings to civil wars.

But just because a report is broadcast, printed or posted doesn’t mean people will watch, listen, read or click. No, journalists need to earn their audience’s trust before they do that.

Much of that trust belongs to the individual news organization, but another sizable portion is owned by the entire profession.

For example, when Gallup conducts its annual poll about the media, it lumps all newspapers, broadcasts and websites together under mass media. There is nothing wrong with that, but it means every journalist is responsible for maintaining that trust.

In September 2012, the number of Americans who distrusted mass media reached 60 percent, according to Gallup. That’s the lowest level of trust in over 15 years of available data. The last time the annual poll showed a majority of Americans trusting the media was 2006.

When people like Jonah Lehrer, Jayson Blair, Stephen Glass and Janet Cooke come along, it’s like bomb. It doesn’t just ruin their careers and reputations; it also hits journalism’s collective trust.

Take Stephen Glass, who was caught fabricating stories at The New Republic, as an example. He was not just found out; his rise and fall was also turned into a movie that starred Hayden Christensen.

Jayson Blair, who was caught fabricating stories at The New York Times, had his deceptions chronicled in a lengthy front-page story. The same goes for Jack Kelley with USA TODAY.

There’s nothing wrong with movies or explaining a plagiarist’s or fabricator’s deceptions, but these examples show how easy it is for the average person to start questioning and distrusting every story from The New York Times, USA TODAY or any other media organization.

Some people may offer excuses for what these people did. Perhaps the stress was too much for them? Maybe they couldn’t find the stories they once did? I don’t know why they did what they did, and frankly I don’t care. There is no excuse for deception.

When a person consciously steals another person’s work or invents their own reality, they do not just ruin their career. They damage the reputation of every journalist doing hard and honest work – from those covering the school board meetings to those in the middle of war zones.

I don’t think it’s possible to put a price on that damage.

So, why am I angry that the Knight Foundation gave Jonah Lehrer $20,000 to speak? It’s because I don’t understand why anyone would give money to someone who has already taken so much.

Additional Information:

“Knight CEO regrets paying plagiarist” http://hrld.us/Yj8SvX

Jonah Lehrer’s speech: http://bit.ly/Yj90M2

Jonah Lehrer’s latest tweet:

 

 

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