23. How should journalists and media companies be held accountable? How can news consumers know whom to trust?

Did the discourse around the Rolling Stone’s UVA story play out as it should have? The story had apparent contradictions that were quickly surfaced and widely distributed and discussed. The Rolling Stone and the reporter lost some of their credibility. Too many more such incidents and people will stop trusting the Rolling Stone. The reporter’s reputation took a hit, she’ll have a harder time finding a job and anything she writes will be taken with a bit more of a grain of salt. Journalists are reminded of the importance of fact checking and that there are repercussions for inaccuracies. Did everything work out the way it should? If so, can we trust that this will play out well every time? If not, what needs to change?

Do media companies have a financial incentive to be trustworthy? If so, is there a “but”? If not, how can one be created? Is there a threshold after which trustworthiness matters more/less?

To what extent should the law be involved (for example, via libel laws)? Does this infringe upon First Amendment rights?

How is Politico held accountable? Is it well-trusted? Is this trust associated with Politico as a whole or individual reporters? Would we make more money if we were more well-trusted? What could we do to increase trust? Should Politico have an ombudsman? See Politico’s trust level compared to other media companies at the bottom of this post.

Think about: libel laws, talking heads, op-ed taglines, what it means to be an “expert,” “analyst,” or “commentator,” fact checking, corrections/clarifications/apologies (or lack thereof), ombudsman/public editors, premature obituaries, hiring process for reporters, earning points on a comment board

For a recap of the Rolling Stone article saga: Rolling Stone’s omission in UVA article proves problematic, by Columbia Journalism Review

Online Chaos Demands Radical Action by Journalism to Earn Trust

The Trust Project

By Richard Gingras (Google News) and Sally Lehrman (Markkula Center)

Oct 17, 2014

In today’s burgeoning and chaotic news ecosystem, it is difficult to parse truth from falsehood, wisdom from spin.

Trust matters. Without it, both the news enterprise and our collective state of knowledge suffer.

It’s time to consider new approaches. Can serious news outlets find ways to establish trust beyond relying on the reader to divine their reputation? Can we abandon the simplistic model of “trust us because we are us?” A stronger framework of trust would allow news organizations to clarify how and why their efforts deserve readers’ confidence. Here are some possibilities.

  • …a posted mission statement and ethics policy that convey the mission of a news organization and the tenets underlying its journalistic craft…
  • …expertise is an important element of trust. Where has [the journalists’] work appeared? How long have they worked with this outlet? Can audiences access their body of work? Might we even learn key elements of their background outside of journalism…
  • …signal editing levels by creating a clear labeling system or listing all participants in the process such as fact checkers, editors, and even lawyers when they get involved….
  • …Citations and more specific links would allow audiences to assess their effort and accuracy….
  • …allow audiences to alert editors to perceived inaccuracies…
  • …describe the methodology behind each work….
  • …Tools such as checklists, metadata, and existing content management systems can enhance and make these processes transparent…

We believe that a new framework of journalistic trust would harvest great value. First, it would grow the respect and loyalty of the audience — the people that journalists strive to inform, that help spread the word via social networks, that support the news business through subscriptions and ad revenue. Second, it would create valuable signals for algorithmically driven search engines and recommendation systems — the ever more important tools to push news out to audiences. And third, it would increase ad revenue by luring commercial advertisers and sponsors that also value trustworthiness.

List of premature obituaries


A premature obituary is an obituary published whose subject is not actually deceased at the time of publication. Examples of premature obituaries range from that of arms manufacturer Alfred Nobel, whose premature obituary condemning him as a “merchant of death” may have caused him to create the Nobel Prize,[1] to black nationalist Marcus Garvey, whose actual death was apparently caused by reading his own obituary.[2]

What role should public editors play in today’s newsrooms?

By Poynter (Mallary Jean Tenore)

May 23, 2012

[Poynter’s Craig] Silverman wrote about five qualifications that the [New York] Times should require of its next public editor. The public editor role, he says, is ripe for disruption: “It needs to move more quickly, publish more frequently online, find new and better ways of engaging with the public and it should avail itself of new storytelling and narrative techniques to deliver reporting and opinion.”…

In response to Silverman’s piece, [Washington Post Ombudsman Patrick] Pexton said that contrary to what some people think, ombudsmen do a lot more than simply write columns.

Walter Lippman and John Dewwey debate the role of citizens in democracy

By Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto (Daniel Schugurensky)

July 19, 2004

[In 1922, Walter Lippman] argued that participatory democracy was unworkable and that the democratic public was a myth, and hence concluded that governance should be delegated exclusively to political representatives and their expert advisors….

[John Dewey, in his response to Lippmann] … contended that democracy should not be confined to the enlightenment of administrators or to insiders like industrial leaders, and highlighted the importance of public deliberation in political decision-making.

Iraq: Why the media failed

By Salon (Gary Kamiya)

April 10, 2007

It’s no secret that the period of time between 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq represents one of the greatest collapses in the history of the American media. Every branch of the media failed, from daily newspapers, magazines and Web sites to television networks, cable channels and radio. … And it wasn’t just a failure of analysis. With some honorable exceptions, good old-fashioned reporting was also absent.

…we need to look at three broad, interrelated areas, which I have called psychological, institutional and ideological. The media had serious preexisting weaknesses on all three fronts…

  1. By [psychological]… I mean the subtle, internalized, often unconscious way that the media conforms and defers to certain sacrosanct values and ideals. Journalists like to think of themselves as autonomous agents who pursue truth without fear or favor. In fact, the media, especially the mass media, adheres to a whole set of sometimes explicit, sometimes implicit codes that govern what it feels it can say…
  2. Seen in this light, the mass media is a quasi-official institution, an info-nanny, that is held responsible for maintaining a kind of national consensus….
  3. Which leads us to the third and final area where journalism failed in the aftermath of 9/11: ideology. Evaluating why America was attacked required journalists to learn about the history of the Arab/Muslim world, … a dispassionate exploration of terrorism itself, … an understanding that terrorism is essentially a form of asymmetrical warfare, … every one of these issues needed to be looked at completely objectively, without sacred cows of any kind.

Pew Research Journalism Project

October 21, 2014

Source: Pew Research Center

Press Widely Criticized, But Trusted More Than Other Information Sources

By Pew Research Center

September 22, 2011

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