How can we restore public confidence in journalism?

Criticism of the news media from the White House and other powerful forces has taken a toll on journalism’s reputation.

A Gallup poll conducted in September found that only 41 percent of the respondents trusted newspapers, television and radio to report the news accurately and fairly, a four-percentage-point drop from 2018. Studies by the Pew Research Center and Rasmussen Reports showed similar results.

So what can journalists do to restore public confidence in their work? Here are suggestions from a group of journalism professionals:

AARON CHIMBEL, Dean, Jandoli School of Communication

One of the most important things journalists can do to improve public trust is to be transparent in their work. Journalists should limit the use of unnamed sources that leave the public without the ability to gauge the trustworthiness of the source. When unnamed sources must be used for stories of great public importance, news organizations should explain why those sources were necessary, how many there were and why they granted anonymity. Additional supporting information about how the reporting was conducted is also helpful.

PATRICK HOSKEN, Editor at MTV News, 2012 St. Bonaventure journalism graduate

Support local journalism. The more we can view journalism as the reflection of the world around us, the more natural it will feel to invest in it. That’s how we sustain it. That’s how it sustains us

MIKE JONES-KELLEY, Lecturer, Jandoli School of Communication

Donald Trump has always existed on sensationalism: sensational prevarication, sensational vulgarity, sensational ignorance, sensational coarseness, sensational ugliness and cruelty.  Every time Trump talks or tweets, it is, in the hoary journalistic aphorism, man bites dog. That now is the only news on television, meaning the press, too, is subsumed by sensationalism.

A suggestion to broadcast news: Stop.

DAVID KASSNOFF, Lecturer, Jandoli School of Communication, 1979 St. Bonaventure journalism graduate

Increasing public confidence in journalism calls for exercising news judgment. Producers and editors should skip flimsy stories – non-fatal car crashes, etc. – and give reporters back that time to cover meaningful stories thoroughly. Journalists, too, must exercise judgment: ask the tough questions, again and again, instead of accepting vague responses that fail to answer the hard question.

CAROLE McNALL, Assistant Professor, Jandoli School of Communication, 1975 St. Bonaventure journalism graduate

Ask the public—as many as possible—whether they have confidence. Then listen hard to their answers. We often assume we know what the problem is. I’m not sure we’re right.

BRIAN MORITZ, PhD, Assistant Professor, SUNY Oswego, 1999 St. Bonaventure journalism graduate

Do readers know that journalists aren’t paid by how many clicks their articles get?

No really. Do they know this?

One way to increase public confidence in journalism is to educate readers about the process of journalism, how the paper is really put together every day. Transparency breeds confidence. 

CHARLES PAOLINO, Former Editor at The Home News Tribune of East Brunswick, N.J., and The News Tribune of Woodbridge, N.J.

The landscape is so fragmented that no one formula would apply. Consumers actually have a fair degree of trust in the media they use, which suggests that they judge media by ideology rather than journalistic standards. Maybe the answer lies in educating a new generation on the role of the press.

TIMOTHY J. SHAFFER, PhD, Assistant Professor in Communication Studies at Kansas State University, 2004 St. Bonaventure journalism graduate

“Left/right” and “us/them” categories do little to advance our understanding of complex public issues. Instead of reporting from distance positions, journalists are engaging in meaningful conversation and dialogue. Naming and framing issues showing nuance and tensions helps us understand that informed positions are necessary for the vitality of democracy.

MICHAEL SHAPIRO, CEO and Publisher, TAPinto.net

Local news outlets can be an effective vehicle for rebuilding confidence in journalism by taking an active role in educating the public about what journalism is, the newsgathering process and helping to improve digital literacy.  We should all make an effort to invest in these educational efforts.ms

KATIE TERCEK, Reporter at NBC 14 News in Evansville, Indiana, 2018 St. Bonaventure journalism graduate

Public confidence to me would entail being transparent, honest and personable. Don’t just write something or film something to get it done, do it because you care, and the public will pick up on that, and in return you’ll be able to gain your own confidence while gaining the trust of the public. Show your passion, responsibility, and have empathy- it will go a long way no matter who you are or how old you are. 

DENNY WILKINS, PhD, Professor, Jandoli School of Communication

Spell names correctly.

Get facts right.

Correct errors immediately and prominently.

Get out of the newsroom daily. Be visible in the community.

Listen intently to readers.

Provide readers with what they need as well as want.

Have well-thought-out reasons for editorial judgments. Explain them clearly when asked.

Don’t burn sources.

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