DRAFT Chapter 1: The Necessity for Trust
Knight Commission on Trust, Media and Democracy

Allow me to suggest several ways of thinking that are not reflected in the article:

First, trust is a learned response. In theory, trust would be discussed, examined, taught, and turned upside down and right side up again throughout the K-12 school cycle, and again throughout college. In practice, few students (and, I’m guessing, few K-12 teachers) can adequately explain how government operates, how and why democracy functions, and why the system deserves our trust. The fact that students no longer feel safe in what ought to a school building, where everything ought to be built upon trust, further erodes what is already a very weak foundation.

If the project about trust is meant to be meaningful and substantive, one must begin with what trust is, how it is learned, how it is taught, how it is won and lost, how we think about trust in these United States and how trust is nurtured, amplified, smothered, and otherwise treated in other nations and cultures.

Second, historically, neither journalism nor government has been especially deserving of trust. Politicians, attorneys, lobbyists, back-room deals, journalists who play the game in sometimes unsavory ways, each of these has its long history, well known and poorly regarded by the general public. There was a time, perhaps a half century ago, when readers trusted the newspaper associated with their personal point of view — one newspaper for the unions, and so on. As we have generalized the function of newspapers, and news media, and transformed them into mass media, it’s silly to assume that most people will not scream about bias. This report lacks that perspective, and it is key to understanding trust in journalism.

Third, you are addressing the wrong issue. The issue is not lack of trust in journalism and it’s not lack of trust in government. The issue is our inability to think critically and creatively, and to use our extraordinary capable brains and technology to generate better answers to important questions. Why is there such a massive disconnect between the health care needs of citizens and the laws that our lawmakers do and don’t make? Why is there so much poverty in the United States, and what are we doing to eradicate this horrifying problem? How is it that the opoid crisis was allowed to take shape, and to go on for so long before anybody did much about it? And we’re okay by explaining away murders in our school buildings because we cannot untangle the politics? It’s no wonder citizens do not trust the government because the government is not taking care of its people. And it’s no wonder that journalism occupies such a low rung on the ladder — when is the last time you read a story about the depth of poverty in our major cities or our smallest towns that did not include the word “gun,” or “drug?” How about it, journalism — how about a sustained education effort to gain (back) the trust that you may or may not have enjoyed in the past by clearly explaining, day in and day out, the issues that government must address if our democracy is going to succeed.

We’ve all got a lot of work to do! Knight Foundation, kudos for at least opening the discussion, but that’s not really what we need you to do. Instead, please steer clear of the moment’s debate, and raise the level of the discourse so that we are addressing the deep problems that make democracy such a robust, exciting way to manage the interest of our citizens, and our residents (who may, someday, dream of becoming citizens — if we somehow manage to think clearly about immigration). And, it’s time to think globally, too.

Please, let’s shift the debate and the resources to a more meaningful plateau.
Thanks for reading!