Credit: Sue Kellerman, Creative Commons.

What you said about chapters two and three

Your comments on “What Happened to Trust?” and “The New Media Landscape”

Nancy Watzman
Jul 16, 2018 · 6 min read

On June 27, we posted drafts for chapter 2, “What Happened to Trust?” and chapter 3, “The New Media Landscape,” of the upcoming report from the Knight Commission on Trust, Media and Democracy, “Renewing Trust in America.” Here are some highlights from your comments on these chapters, plus some comments from other recent posts on the Trust, Media and Democracy publication.

It’s not too late–here’s how to comment. We share your feedback with the Commissioners.

Chapter 2: What Happened to Trust?

  • “The public” is not static: it’s grown more diverse over time. “If trust in institutions characterizes a relationship between communities or “the public,” what happens when the very composition of public shifts? In other words, when who counts as the community in 1900 versus 2000 is qualitatively different?” wrote Connie Moon Sehat of the Credibility Coalition. She comments that this is a different issue from institutional performance, “because the terms of the relationship are changing.” She points to discussion of of Robert Putnam’s work on diversity and trust.
  • Public relations is part of the problem, not part of the solution. “Maybe we begin by questioning how a leading public relations firm is connected to an article about trust. The purpose of public relations is to shape public perception, so questions about intent go to the heart of the chapter. Next, we might consider the very solid connection between public relations and news media — this part of journalism is not often discussed. Much of what we see and hear in media is the result of clever, well-funded storytelling as shaped by public relations professionals,” wrote Howard Blumenthal. Another commenter, George Lizner, wrote: “For almost a hundred years, the idea of objective journalism has existed side-by-side with the growth of a multi-billion dollar industry whose mission is to influence and manipulate the media. Journalists have gone about their excellent work in denial of this not-inconsequential relationship, as they have also denied the existence of their own biases. Since journalists are the people news consumers depend on for our primary independent view of government, the lack of acknowledgement and transparency in this regard undermines trust in what they have to say.”
  • The social contract is broken. It’s impossible to discuss decline of trust in institutions without considering how government has aided and abetted worsening economic conditions for ordinary people, and how the media has also pursued profits to their detriment, argued Brad Collins: “It’s no wonder that people have no trust. Government protects and invests in a nameless elite of big companies. You have nowhere to go, you can’t stop, you can’t afford to get sick — hell, in many cases you can’t even afford to die….And the news industry is right smack in the middle of this, having turned the information that you need to make decisions as an informed citizen another bloody rent.”

Chapter 3: The New Media Landscape.

  • Don’t forget about TV. “The new media landscape chapter is very informative, but, with respect, it does not address a very important feature — the consolidation of the local television space….If the Sinclair/Tribune deal is approved by the FCC, 4 station groups will control almost half of the local stations in the U.S. and the Gray/Raycom deal announced on June 26 will further consolidate that space. As station groups work to achieve economies of scale after going into debt by billions of dollars and, in Sinclair’s case, to push a political agenda, the features of that part of the media landscape will have important implications for what political information the public receives,” commented Danilo Yanich, an associate professor at the University of Delaware.
  • Don’t forget about data journalism, either. “Perhaps viewers should be respected to evaluate the data themselves without being burdened by journalists’ perspectives and biases….Just because storytelling is powerful doesn’t make it the proper way to share factual information,” wrote Owen Ambur.
  • Everything old is new again. Think carefully about making claims that social media makes communication different than it used to be. “Media is not, and has never been, a one-way form of communication. There is a sender, which is well-documented here, and there is a receiver, which is poorly documented. How much did the newspaper reader in 1900 know about his or her world? How did he or she learn? Was the information presented in a contextualized, substantive and reasonable balanced manner? Was there bias, and if so, how did the reader navigate that bias?” wrote Howard Blumenthal.
  • Be more clear about timeline on trust. “Media trust’s decline began in the mid-1970s. Newspaper circulation has been sinking since the 1950s. All four of your “Four Factors Responsible for Decline in Trust of the Media” point mostly to social media, the internet, and cable TV news channels as the causes. Yet these newer media didn’t exist for much of the history of these declines….The explanation must, in large part, be deeper and longer than your report recognizes,” commented Barrett Golding.

Comments on other recent posts

On what social media can do for us, Ethan Zuckerman’s piece, “Six or Seven Things Social Media Can Do For Democracy.”

  • Make direct democracy more efficient. While we need to beware of bots “trying to rig the numbers,” social media can help improve efficiency when governments solicit information: “Recently in Australia the government spent over $21 million to send out a one question survey to get feedback from society on the issue of gay marriage….Contrast this with a poll placed in variety of news articles around the country, capturing the sentiment of a large and diverse audience, that can be done for a fraction of the cost…We need a fast and direct way to inform leaders what people want. This is what online media, and social networks, can offer us,” commented Keren Flavell.
  • Don’t tell me what I like. “The best thing social media could do to serve the interests of democracy would be to drop the obsession with ‘Artificial Intelligence.’…Site managers should abandon attempts to control me or understand my tastes and predict where I will go next. Give us chaos, with the means to navigate the wilderness, author listings, category listings, a site search field and let us wander, deciding for ourselves what we might be interested to read,” wrote Ian Thorpe.
  • Social media is not the problem, we’re the problem. Social media offers good and bad, wrote Joaquin Quiñonero Candela. What we need are more people to help us understand the impact and rethink the social contract. We believe we have a deficit of Computer Science graduates; I think we will have an even greater one of Social Scientists and more generally people who study Humanities.”

Other comments of note:

  • What does it mean to be trustworthy? “You make many fine distinctions between kinds of trust, but I noted only one instance where the word “trustworthy” occurs in your essay. I think that word would benefit from some explication, because if trust is an important value in a society, trustworthiness seems to be a universal obligation of all members, individuals, institutions of all kinds, and the basic organizing structures. It enables not only the settling of disputes fairly but the very possibility of describing them accurately and responding with either assent or rejection. At its most fundamental, trustworthiness is a matter of truthfulness, a commitment to meaning what you say and keeping your word — or acknowledging when you change your mind. It means using language and representations to state, illuminate, communicate, explain rather than to deceive, mislead, obfuscate,” Laurie Raymond, commenting on Kevin Vallier’s “Is Trust Possible in a Polarized Age?
  • Complaints about bias are driven by partisans. A few commenters on the post ”Media bias Is driving distrust in our communities,” which summarized comments by Wisconsin’s Robin Vos, argued that charges of media bias are weaponized by the right. “Vos seems unaware that distrust of “the media” has not emerged from bias or the media’s failure to report news fairly. It arose from a deliberate, well-documented, right-wing effort to discredit media outlets that were not explicitly conservative by accusing them of a liberal bias,” wrote Sonja Farnsworth. George Linzer commented, “The real issue is not bias in the media but a partisanship that is desirous of undermining evidence-based reporting that supports so-called liberal issues like climate change and gun control.”
  • Blockchain is the answer. A few commenters pointed to blockchain technology as a way to build trust. “I believe that decentralised non-profit democratic community driven blockchain technology will turn out to be the only antidote that anyone trusts, eventually putting all of the politicians, lawyers, bankers, and accountants out of work, and putting ordinary sincere people back in control of everything, including their own money and data, globally,” wrote Frederick Bott, commenting on Kevin Vallier’s “Is Trust Possible in a Polarized Age?

Anyone who wishes to read the full comments submitted by readers on Medium can find them on the site below individual posts.


Trust, Media and Democracy

People need trusted news and information to make democracy work.

Nancy Watzman

Written by

Nancy Watzman is editor of Trust, Media & Democracy on Medium & director of strategic initiatives for Dot Connector Studio.

Trust, Media and Democracy

People need trusted news and information to make democracy work.