TRUST: How to Rebuild It

Submitted by John Hamer on Tue, 03/03/2009 – 7:16pmin

Session Convenor: John Hamer, Washington News Council

Session Reporter: John Hamer, WNC

Discussion Participants: Anne Anderson, Tom Stites, Jay Young

JOHN explained the River Park Square project report, in which The Spokesman-Review of Spokane asked the Washington News Council to do an independent outside audit of 10 years of their coverage of a downtown development project run by the owners of the newspaper. He said it was unprecedented in the history of American journalism, and was an example of complete openness and transparency in an effort to be accountable to the public.

TOM briefly explained the Banyan Project. The whole philosophical underpinning has to do with integrity and trust.…We are living in the age of an information glut, which means that attention is scarce. There’s still 24 hours a day. What there is is a tremendous number of people wanting access to people’s eyeballs. What’s scarce? Integrity in our institutions. We are awash in manipulative messages – politics, PR people. Everybody knows that but can’t quite say it. And the media are not trusted. There’s this comprehensive sense of mistrust.

“The integrity economy.” Goal: News we deliver is relevant, respectful of them, and worthy of their trust. People will find that very valuable and maybe even pay. OK, if you’re going to do that, what do you have to do? 1. Make sure that news institutions don’t have built-in conflicts of interest. We’re here to serve you.

JAY: Owner of Altoona paper owned baseball team. No bad coverage of Pittsburgh Pirates. Scaife-owned paper: No photos of Al Gore in paper. Period.

Ethics Battles in Altoona: If you bring up a topic like that in a small newsroom, it’s dangerous. If you work at the paper in Altoona, you’re big time.

There were instances where people knew. Used car dealer was underselling everyone, pissing off the dealers. We did a feature photo on him, and the dealers who advertised went ballistic.

If I want to sit here moralistically and say that’s wrong….well, it’s complicated.

TOM: Banyan needs to find a source of revenue so you can have the independence. Civic networking – as opposed to social networking. Do it as a co-op, and the owners are restricted to people who are reader/users. No capital involved. Comes entirely from people who are engaged. Other parties would be involved, but the advertisers would have to be screened to get the untrustworthy people out. Don’t put up people who are putting up false advertising (i.e., subprime mortgages).

Center for Public Integrity – It doesn’t get covered if we don’t get a grant.

If journalism is ever going to be trusted again on an institutional scale, we need to find a way to be trusted.

ANNE: I came late to this profession, and I still struggle with one of “them” – i.e., journalists. I have some real antagonism toward this profession.

Does freelancing for small group of papers owned by St. Pete Times. Got Knight Foundation fellowship to get Master’s in community journalism at U of Alabama and Anniston Star.

Antagonism toward journalism? The whole trust issue goes beyond ethics to attitude: I know more than you do, and if you’re lucky I’ll tell you. The media tends to build mountains out of molehills. You never really know if it’s really important or are they just trying to get eyes on the page or viewers. At the same time, while they ignore the smaller things, you don’t real get a sense of proportion, context and priorities.

I have an issue with telling stories. We don’t write “stories,” That’s part of the identity crisis of journalism. We’re trying to be the storytellers, and not tell the objective facts.

If we don’t know who we are, how can readers know who we are? That implies the whole us vs. them mentality, which is another issue in building trust.

Journalism has been above the community, looking down on the community, and telling people what they should do – instead of being part of the community.

Orange County Register – Doing away with the central newsroom, and putting people out in bureaus to be closer to the people they cover.

JOHN: We comment all the time on things we don’t know anything about. That‘s the definition of the profession.

JOSE: We take ourselves too seriously. We act like we are omniscient. We hold ourselves above the community, and at the same time we crave the recognition for what we do.

TOM: It’s an ego need. What we have to do is not forget that what we do it a public service: It’s about who reads the story, not who writes it.

JOSE: That’s why we make so little money at it. You have to accept that.

JAY: In every newsroom you start with the perception that you’re smarter than the public. You’re better than the real people.

JOSE: Media. Where does the word come from? It has a Latin root: It’s a channel,, it’s something that things pass through. It’s OK to shape, skew the news, but you need to be upfront about it.

JOHN: There is news and opinion, and a wall between the newsroom and the editorial page at most good papers.

JOSE: Editorial Wall? The lady who picks up the paper in the morning doesn’t understand that distinction.

ANNE: Read Bernard Goldberg’s book, BIAS.

She read from Kovach & Rosenstiel: Journalism is our modern cartography. It creates a map for citizens to navigate the world.

JOSE: When journalists speak about the press, they usually talk of big major papers, but it also includes National Enquirer.

JAY: At mid-sized papers, there is no value to two words: CUSTOMER SERVICE.

JOSE: At Wall Street Journal, every day they run corrections. Most papers do.

JAY: Every paper does it, but you have to go through a lot to get that correction. Was I talked down to by a person who thinks they’re smarter than me? Their paper’s attorney told them they had to do that to avoid defamation or libel suit. Even if you avoid the lawsuit, you haven’t satisfied the customer.

JOSE: I wouldn’t do anything I couldn’t explain to my mother or my kids.

JOHN: The Golden Rule is the only ethics code journalists need. What if the story was about YOU? Wouldn’t you want to make sure it was right? Double-check facts? Every reporter should have a story written about him/her. It teaches a lesson. I’ve had stories written about me, and in every one they got something wrong.

JAY: Editors are busy on phone, while editing a story and making an assignment at the same time.

ANNE: Idaho Falls is a great example of being open and accountable. Has a story with ? marks that link to explanations of how and why they did what they did.

JOHN: THIS IS A CUTTING-EDGE EXAMPLE OF TAO (Transparency, Accountability & Openness).

ANNE: See for list of ethics codes. Tampa Tribune’s site is the best. (FUNNY!) She did a paper for degree on how newspapers communicate their ethics standards to their staff, the public, et al. (NOT PUBLISHED YET). She may present paper to Newspaper Association of America meeting in Mobile, ALA.

About Peggy Holman

Peggy Holman supports organizations and communities to uncover creative responses to complex challenges using innovative engagement processes. The Change Handbook, co-authored with Tom Devane and Steven Cady, documents many such processes. The book is the considered the definitive resource for leaders and consultants working to increase resilience, agility, and collaboration in organizations and other social systems. Peggy co-founded Journalism that Matters in 2001 with three journalists to support the pioneers who are shaping the emerging news and information ecology. Peggy’s latest book, Engaging Emergence: Turning Upheaval into Opportunity, supports people facing disruptions to invite others to join them in realizing new possibilities.
This entry was posted in Session Notes. Bookmark the permalink.