Trust and the Media in a New Era

How can the press regain the public’s trust?

That’s a question some of the country’s top journalists attempted to answer this week at the inaugural Poynter Journalism Ethics Summit in Washington, D.C. I was privileged to attend and want to share with you some highlights of the event.

The all-day gathering kicked off with the release of Poynter’s media trust survey called “You’re Fake News!” It confirmed what many of us in the media have experienced or sensed: “Republicans and Trump supporters have far more negative attitudes toward the press” (19% confidence in media reporting) than do Democrats and Trump opponents (74% confidence)

What was truly disturbing was some of the overall findings: 44 percent of those surveyed said they believe journalist make up stories about Trump, and 31 percent agreed that the media are the “enemy of the people” and “keep political leaders from doing their job.” Nearly two-thirds of Trump supporters believe those statements, the survey found.

Perhaps the worst of all: 16 percent of Trump opponents and 42 percent of his supporters said that government should “be able to stop a news media outlet from publishing a story that government officials say is biased or inaccurate.”

So what can be done about all of this?

Jay Rosen, a journalism professor at New York University, offered a three-step plan to restore trust, which I shared on Twitter: 1. Don’t oppose Trump, oppose a political style where facts and truth are expendable. 2. Focus on people’s troubles, not issues created to get them angry. 3. Generate trust through transparency, not authority.

Poynter itself outlined several steps to move the needle toward public trust of the press:

  • Be transparent: describe your process for ensuring accuracy. Shift from “show-me” journalism to “this is why you should trust me” journalism. Have an ongoing explanation of who you are and what you do.
  • Adopt signifiers of trust outlined by The Trust Project, which offers tips to help news consumers feel confident that what they’re reading and seeing is legitimate
  • Strike a balance between the courage/confidence needed to do our work with the humility needed to listen to your audience and find out their concerns
  • Educate people about the public role journalism plays in Democracy
  • Protect and defend Democratic institutions include the First Amendment

The last one has been the mission of the Society of Professional Journalists for more than a century, and we will continue to join legal battles to preserve the rights of a free press and the free flow of information to the public.

Defending the First Amendment and promoting open government are more crucial now than ever. Join SPJ's fight for the public’s right to know — either as an SPJ Supporter or a professional, student or retired journalist.

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