Twenty seven percent of Americans have “not very much” trust in the mass media, and 33% of Americans have “none at all,” according to a poll taken by Gallup in 2020. These national trends have had effects on local publications around the country, and The Red & Black in Athens is no exception.
In order to address distrust toward the media, the staff at The Red & Black have become more transparent and have also placed an emphasis on reporting nothing but the truth to their readers.Why It’s Newsworthy: Local publications are attempting to navigate the tumultuous terrain that is the lack of trust our country has for the media. The Red & Black has had discussions about this lack of trust in their own community.
Rebecca Burns, the executive director of The Red & Black, realizes the importance of training students, so these journalists of the future can eventually climb out of this era of distrust towards the media.
“I’m so passionate about working with students just to help people understand this and train from the beginning about the need to be accurate, correct and objective. The more we can defend the sourcing, defend and explain where we got our information and back it up, the more people trust our reporting,” Burns said.
Julia Walkup, the news editor for the Red & Black, said the public must understand that the journalists working at her publication are just starting out in this demanding field.
“They are learning, and I am learning. When we have a fact error, I do not think that should have happened, and they are not excusable. But it is also important to remember that we’re just learning,” Walkup said.
Sherry Liang, the editor-in-chief of The Red & Black, said if a fact error does get published, then transparency is the highest priority moving forward.
“If there is a fact error, that is something we take severely and we take critical efforts to address. We always issue corrections, and it’s always transparent. If we do have a correction in the article, we don’t change facts without acknowledging that we had stated something incorrectly, and so we are definitely taking those steps,” Liang said.
The Blame Game
Walkup believes the anger aimed at local publications is unwarranted and misplaced.
“People take their anger at national sources out on local sources,” Walkup said.
Liang hypothesizes further as to why local publications are receiving a lot of the blame for this lack of trust .
“I think generalizing media as a whole and not recognizing the differences between national and local outlets, or even like students and non-students, is really kind of fueling that hatred toward media as a whole. Which as we all know, is completely arbitrary. Media can encompass anything and everything,” Liang said.
Burns noted that a specific group of people are somewhat responsible for this lack of trust in the media.
I think there are certain politicians who have riled up that distrust, and they’ve been irresponsible. And it’s mostly because they don’t like news, and they don’t want it to be true, so they say it’s fake,” Burns said.
Walkup echoes this idea concerning blaming politicians for the lack of trust in the media.
“Donald Trump, especially, talks about how the news media is the enemy to the people, and to not trust the news media. And I think that this just kind of led to an idea that all news is bad,” Walkup said.
The Red & Black staff have had several discussions about what they can do to maintain the trust present in their loyal readers, and what they can do to instill higher levels of trust in the people who do not believe in their publication to deliver the truth.
Burns has several ideas on how to maintain their readers’ confidence in their ability to report the truth.
“I think to maintain that trust, what we need to do is continue to be transparent, to continue to be fair, to continue to name our sources, to continue to fact check, to continue to publish corrections if we do make a mistake and just be really upfront with readers about what we’re doing,” Burns said.
Liang firmly believes transparency is imperative in restoring faith in the media within the Athens community.
“I think we can always do better with transparency, with editorials or explain our reporting process. It is kind of elusive for someone who has not reported on an article before. I do not think they understand the mechanisms that go into place, the corroboration that we need for an article to go up. So, I think there’s always room to grow in that sense and increasing transparency,” Liang said.
Walkup believes that she has found the most important journalistic practice to implement during this time of distrust.
You can’t get mad at The Red & Black when all they’re doing is reporting truth. I think that that is the most important thing to do. I think that reporting trust is the best thing that news outlets can do in order to win back the trust of the public,” Walkup said.
Walkup also said that not all the responsibility to regain this trust in the media can be laid at the feet of journalists.
“I think it’s dependent on people to really critically think about what news they are consuming, what information they’re consuming, what echo chambers they are in, who you are trusting and really fact check what they are talking about,” Walkup said.
As a result of these productive discussions concerning lack of trust, the Red & Black can better serve the community of Athens.
Cullen Davis is a senior majoring in journalism in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia.
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