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HomeNewsThe new normal? Journalists unsettled in ‘post-truth society’

The new normal? Journalists unsettled in ‘post-truth society’

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The numbers are shocking.

Thirty-seven percent of respondents to an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll said they trust the Trump administration, compared to 30% who said they trust the media.

And 91% of journalists feel they have lost the public’s confidence, according to Cision’s 2017 State of the Media study.

Media outlets and journalists are facing stiff headwinds on the reputational front as fake news and unethical players fan the flame of distrust among the public.

PRWeek asked leaders at Gannett, the largest local-to-national media organization in the country, and the Financial Times, a leader in providing news and services to the global business community, to weigh in as journalists on the front lines of a media landscape experience a sea change.

 


“The fragmented media ecosystem and the ways people increasingly connect with content through a variety of sources, especially through search engines and social media, will continue to put pressure on trust”
Maribel Wadsworth, SVP and chief transformation officer, Gannett

 

 

What does it mean to the individual journalist to be working in this environment day to day?

Journalism has always been about seeking the truth. So, it is very unsettling to work as a journalist in what increasingly feels like a post-truth environment. Never has it been more crucial to maintain the highest ethical standards, to be transparent with your audience about sourcing, to apply thorough fact-checking.

And yet, it’s often not enough to earn trust. It’s as if facts are mere speed bumps on the road to one’s pre-established convictions. We must do an ever more effective job of exploring all sides of an issue, of getting underneath why people feel the way they do about a topic, and helping to share understanding of diverse perspectives. When people see themselves, their beliefs, their concerns reflected in your coverage, it goes a long way toward earning their trust.

What should journalists and media companies be doing to help restore that trust?

Get much closer to the story. To build trust back, we must tap into our local communities, engage with them, listen and continue to deepen that relationship. The USA Today Network is uniquely positioned in big cities, small towns, red states and blue states, with a community-based approach to reporting and storytelling that helps people solve problems, take action and go forward. As journalists, metrics are important, but relationships are most important. We need to continue to align resources to strengthen and diversify our relationships in the communities that we serve.

Is this environment the new normal? Looking ahead will confidence be restored or might trust further wane?

The fragmented media ecosystem and the ways people increasingly connect with content through a variety of sources, especially through search engines and social media, will continue to put pressure on trust.

The big technology companies, such as Facebook and Google, can and should be helpful to re-establishing trust with credible, premium journalism organizations by prioritizing these sources in their feeds and search results. And journalists must continue to focus on developing diverse sources and gaining a 360-degree view of the topics and issues they cover so that they can spot important trends and ensure their coverage doesn’t exist solely in the echo chamber of a particular point of view.

Clearly, we have a lot of work to do to re-establish trust more broadly. But it is also heartening to see the groundswell of support for the First Amendment and the important role of journalism to our democracy, even as we endure a daily assault on our credibility.

 

“We have to remember that fake news isn’t a new phenomenon. There have always been peddlers of falsehoods and propagandists trying to sow discord.”
Matt Garrahan, global media editor, Financial Times

 

What does it mean to the individual journalist to be working in this environment day to day?

Our work hasn’t changed. We still work to the same standards of accuracy and fairness in reporting. But the prevalence of false stories from fake sites designed to earn clicks and advertising revenue  – or sway people politically – has had a big impact on public discourse on both sides of the Atlantic.

I’ve just returned to the U.K. after 11 years working in the U.S. and the climate in both countries has clearly changed. Whether it’s the U.S. president attacking media outlets and calling them “fake news” or physical threats being made against reporters such as the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg – who was flanked by bodyguards at the Labour Party’s annual conference – journalists now find themselves under fire for doing their jobs. There has been a clear attempt to weaken faith and trust in journalists and news organizations and that’s very disturbing.

What should journalists and media companies be doing to help restore that trust?

Journalists have to keep doing their jobs and striving to be as impartial and judicious as possible. That means clear lines between news stories and comment pieces and adherence to the highest standards of accuracy in reporting. It doesn’t really involve anything that wasn’t being done before – the best journalism has always been fact based and impartial.

We have to remember that fake news isn’t a new phenomenon. There have always been peddlers of falsehoods and propagandists trying to sow discord. The difference now is that outrageous claims or fake stories can be turbocharged by social media which does a similar job of amplifying criticism of the media and free press by its critics. It becomes a vicious circle.

Is this environment the new normal? Looking ahead will confidence be restored or might trust further wane?

I’m hopeful for the future because readers are becoming more willing to question the veracity of what they read online if it’s from a publication they may not have heard of. They are also drifting to trusted news brands – just look at the big increases in digital subscriptions in the last 12 months at The New York Times, Washington Post, Financial Times, and others. Still, we should all be concerned and vigilant about what is happening. The free press is a cornerstone of Western democracy but it is under attack.

 

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