“Seek truth and report it.” What a challenge those five words have proved to be.
Figures in government at all levels are making it harder to find, let alone report, the truth. And elected officials have found it easy to scream “Fake news!” at coverage that clashes with their social and political beliefs.
Not all the news for journalists is bad. More Americans say they have a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in newspapers than they did last year, according to a Gallup poll released at the end of June. The overall number is still low — 27 percent — but it’s the highest recorded since 2011.
The numbers for trust in television news are similar. Twenty-four percent of U.S. adults said they have confidence in TV news. That’s up from a record low of 18 percent in 2014 but a steep drop from 1993 — the first year Gallup did the media confidence poll — when 46 percent of viewers said they had confidence in TV news.
But the lowest numbers are reserved for online news. Only 16 percent of those polled said they had confidence in digital news sites.
The poll also found that polarization in our politics is reflected in people’s trust in newspapers. Last year, 26 percent of Democrats had a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in newspapers. This year, 46 percent do. Among Republican, though, only 13 percent had confidence this year compared to 16 percent last year.
It’s hard to believe the First Amendment has become a partisan issue.
So what can SPJ and its members do about building trust and increasing those confidence levels? Turns out, plenty.
SPJ now has a new Outreach Committee with two goals:
- Identify ways that the Society can engage the public.
- Coordinate those engagement efforts through SPJ’s six primary committees: Freedom of Information, Diversity, Membership, Journalism Education, Ethics and Awards.
To accomplish this, one member of each committee will be appointed to the Outreach Committee, allowing for more collaboration and joint projects. The Society’s committees have operated in silos for far too long, and with a shared mission of outreach, I’m excited to see the projects they create.
The days of “letting the work speak for itself” are over. We have to be our own advocates. We have to champion our own work and the work of our colleagues.
For every person who screams “Fake news!” we have to be able to offer a dozen examples of “real news” — investigations that led government and corporations to clean up their act (literally and figuratively), human interest stories that prompted people to donate time or money, even everyday coverage of community events and local news that enlightens and informs readers and viewers. SPJ is going to spotlight winners of our SDX awards contest more frequently, and routinely share them with SPJ members and the public through social media.
Additionally, we have launched the 100 Schools Project, where SPJ is asking members to contact an elementary, middle or high school near them and offer to talk about journalism. The SPJ website will have some tips and materials to help guide those conversations. Our Education Committee also can offer valuable advice.
I’ve issued a personal challenge to every professional and campus chapter: partner with a good government group and/or a local newspaper to host a community forum, where people from all walks of life can meet working journalists, talk about how and why news is reported, and even vent their frustrations about the way some stories were covered. A few chapters have already created a model for hosting this type of discussion. We hope others will follow their lead.
SPJ, as I see it, is the best organization to take a leading role in creating a more informed citizenry. As your new president, I want to hear your ideas for outreach efforts and ways SPJ can help protect and improve journalism.
We have our work cut out for us. But together, we’ll continue the mission of the Society and do all we can to educate the public and promote a free press.
Rebecca Baker is 2017-18 national SPJ president. She is a proud member of the mainstream media as deputy head of news for the New York Daily News and spends her days guiding reporters, editing stories and helping her boss run the newsroom. Connect on Twitter: @RBakerNY Email: email@example.com
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