News Literacy Week: Up to News Outlets, Consumers to Improve Trust
Friday, January 27, 2023
Americans continue to report low trust in mainstream media, with many younger than 30 saying they trust information from social media nearly as much as from national news outlets.
As we reach the end of National News Literacy Week, Randy Essex, former executive editor of the Omaha World Herald and now editor at the Detroit Free Press, offered some explanations for this declining trust, starting with the role he feels conservative radio and television have played for a generation.
"The rise of this clearly partisan media is a business model, and part of that model is to sow distrust of established sources of information, whether that be national media or the government," he said. "The statement, essentially, is 'Believe us, not them, we're on your side.'"
Essex said other factors include the consolidation in the radio industry, closing of hundreds of local newspapers and the pervasiveness of social media. He said he believes even COVID contributed, with fear making people more susceptible to conspiracy theories. He called rebuilding public trust in mainstream news "a tremendous uphill battle," and maintained that transparency and ethics are paramount.
Essex added that editors have an important role to play.
"Top editors need to communicate with the public, and explain the work that we're doing and counter unfounded criticism of it," he said. "When we make mistakes, we have to be transparent about that, too. And we need to connect in person and be in the community when we can, because human beings are much more civil in person than they are on the internet."
Essex said the public has some responsibility, too, including checking sources and being skeptical.
"And the problem is that for a generation," he said, "a lot of people have been conditioned to not believe established organizations that are doing real news."
Essex stressed that, ultimately, journalists show the public their worth through their work.
"Locally, the city council is the end of the debate," he said. "The real debate is happening out in the community, or behind closed doors in board rooms, and it's our job to find that real issue, not to just cover what's happening on the surface. And that's where our value is."
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