Knight commissioners in Aspen, July 2018.

What would you recommend?

As Knight commissioners develop recommendations to improve trust in the media and democracy, we want to know what you think

At a July 2018 meeting in Aspen, Colorado members of the Knight Commission on Trust, Media and Democracy dove into the most difficult part of their task. They’re sifting through the information they’ve collected, the testimony they’ve heard, and bringing their collective expertise to bear to develop recommendations on what we can do as a society to improve trust in the media, and in so doing, our democracy.

While the final recommendations are a work in progress, they are clustering around four themes that overlap and reinforce one another. We’d like to know what you think. Here’s how to comment.

Reinvention

The virtual collapse of profitable models for the local news business opens a vacuum where bad actors can manipulate systems and disinformation flourishes. One way to foil them: crowd out bad information with good. A citizen with access to high quality news reporting from trusted sources is one less likely to be manipulated. The good news is that in recent years, innovative new models have sprouted for financing successful local news organizations. But these are not nearly enough to meet the vast need. We need massive societal commitment to develop and sustain quality, community news organizations far into the future.

How do we inspire audacious investment in community news in the 21st century and beyond?

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Responsibility

Self-inflicted wounds help explain declining trust in the media. Contributors on this site have argued that reporters need to do a better job of listening, of representing their communities, and stating and adhering to their professional values. Others argue that social media companies such as Facebook, Twitter, Google, and others yet to emerge, should take more responsibility to combat mis- and dis-information that appears on their networks. Citizens also have an obligation: how do we not only do a better job of being critical consumers of information, including exposing ourselves to points of view we disagree with? What can our leaders do to set a good example for the rest of us?

What should we do to be responsible, at every level of society, for the information we consume and share?

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Transparency

Unlike autocracies, democracies are built on principles of transparency. At least in the ideal, our government institutions are required to reveal how political sausage is made. Congress debates on the record; federal rulemakings are published for comment from the public. While the process is often imperfect and messy, the goal is to build trust by being open about decision making. But as private institutions, media organizations don’t often explain how they go about reporting and why they make the editorial decisions they do. Social media companies don’t typically share how they build the algorithms that deliver information to users. Some media organizations are experimenting: they’re releasing information about the reporting process, taking part in meetings with members of communities that they’d like to know more about, clearly labeling news, opinion, and analysis pieces, and more. Meanwhile, there is heated public discussion around what social media companies could and should be doing to be more transparent around algorithms and making data available to researchers.

What kind of transparency should we ask of organizations involved in production or delivery of news?

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Accountability

We need muscle to hold institutions accountable. Accountability can take many forms, whether it’s requiring certain goalposts for diversity in media organizations, creating watchdog and standards-setting nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), ensuring a strong media to investigate institutions, requiring that users have power to control the information they see online, promoting competition, and various forms of self and government regulation. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), enacted in 2018 by the European Union, is one approach for dealing with responsibilities of institutions that collect personal data from users online, but the United States has different legal and cultural traditions.

How do we hold institutions accountable for how information is collected and spread online?

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Please share your thoughts with us and stay tuned as the Knight Commission continues its work.