It’s usually the first question people ask me these days.
Whether I’m visiting relatives, taking a vacation or mingling at an event, it’s the thing people want to know when they learn I’m a newspaper editor: How do you deal with all the comments these days about fake news?
I don’t have a satisfying answer. I explain that the caricature offered by media critics, politicians, and most notably, our president, is inaccurate, unfair and counter to everything I’ve experienced in my nearly two decades as a professional journalist. I note how the reporters in my newsroom, and our colleagues at other news organizations, work hard to produce accurate, fair and complete stories. I share how I’ve seen journalists go out of their way to do the right thing, even when the right thing is also the most difficult thing. I point out that the code of ethics my colleagues and I live by is sacred to us, something that we’ve based our entire professional lives around.
And, unfortunately, that seems to matter less and less to some people.
We live in an era of polarization, an era where trust in institutions – from Congress and the White House to the media – is at a low. It’s a time when, if people don’t like what we have to say, they denounce our work as fake news – without even reading it.
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This is more than unfortunate. I believe it represents a crisis in our democracy. There is a reason the Founding Fathers protected the freedom of the press: An informed public is essential if our country is to succeed. So what to do when many people don’t trust the media enough to read about what is happening in their community, in their state, in their country?
The Society of Professional Journalists wants to find some answers. The group, which represents journalists from across the country, plans to spend the next six months in Casper, examining why people don’t trust the media and what can be done about it. They’ll be holding a series of discussions and presentations to better understand the rising skepticism and to learn how to help people distinguish between news from propaganda, satire and outright lies.
The group is looking for roughly 75 people to participate in the project. These participants will attend two-hour sessions, once a month from February through July, on the topic of media trust. They’ll be paid for their time, but perhaps just as importantly, they’ll be able to share their concerns, their frustrations and their opinions along the way.
Does this sound like something you’d be interested in? If so, I’d encourage you to send an email to email@example.com. Because the path we’re on isn’t a healthy one. People need journalists to provide the news that allows them to make informed decisions. And to do that, we need to build back the trust that has been lost.