Critical Thinking: How Can Newspapers Regain The Trust Of Their Readership?

By: Nu Yang

Critical Thinking: How Can Newspapers Regain The Trust Of Their Readership?

Q: A recent Gallup poll revealed that only 25 percent of adults expressed a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in newspapers. At its peak in 1979, consumer confidence in newspapers was 51 percent. How can newspapers today regain the trust of their readership?

Elizabeth Bonner, 21, senior, Auburn University (Auburn, Ala.)
Bonner is a senior honors student and staff writer for The Auburn Plainsman student newspaper. She is majoring in journalism with a minor in political science. During the summer of 2011, Bonner was editorial intern for the New Statesman, a current affairs and political magazine in London. This summer, she interned as a reporter with The Tennessean in Nashville.

A: We live in a world of instant information. This creates an incredibly competitive atmosphere for any news organization. Newspapers can no longer stop at making sure today’s big news appears in tomorrow’s print. They must compete with TV, radio, and millions of online outlets to get the news to the people — and get it to them first.

This race to break has begun to take priority over some of the most fundamental pillars of journalism, most importantly accuracy.

In an effort to get the news out first, journalists are neglecting to get every side of the story and conduct basic fact checks, producing hasty reports with — if they’re lucky — minor spelling errors or — if they’re not — huge mistakes that raise suspicions of agendas and biases.

In live reporting of the Supreme Court’s decision on President Obama’s health care bill, CNN and Fox News both announced false reports. CNN went on to publish a string of inaccurate information, confusing viewers and readers across the country. There is no pride in being the first to break the wrong news.

More recently, as America woke up to the tragic news of the Aurora mass murders July 20, ABC was quick to link the Tea Party’s Jim Holmes to the crime when news of the suspect’s name first surfaced. There is no excuse for reporting this type of unverified conclusion.

Yes, timeliness is an important piece of good journalism, especially in this day and age, but it is rendered completely meaningless if incorrect news is reported quickly.

Journalists must commit to reporting the truth and only the truth — no matter the extra time and effort it takes. This will help restore credibility to the news industry and begin the process of repairing the public’s trust in the words that appear in their papers and on their computer and TV screens.

George Spohr, 31, editor, The Sentinel (Carlisle, Pa.)
Spohr began his career 14 years ago as a reporter while in high school. He later served as a business journalist before making the jump to management. His past roles include executive editor of The World in Coos Bay, Ore.; state editor of the Watertown Daily Times in Watertown, N.Y.; and business editor of the Times Herald- Record in Middletown, N.Y.

A: At a time when newspapers are competing against every blogger with a WordPress account, it’s crucial that newspapers distinguish themselves from their online counterparts. One of the best ways to do that is to transition the best practices of print to our digital portfolios.

Most newspapers do a good job of correcting bad information in print, but when it happens online, it’s done in a vacuum. The bad information quietly changes online, but you’d have to have before-and-after screenshots to know what changed.

The New York Times
has a great model to address that, and it’s one we’re adopting here at The Sentinel.

When we need to correct information we’ve reported, we make changes to the story online, but we also append a timestamped editor’s note letting readers know exactly what has changed. Readers instantly know what about the story has changed and, in some cases, why the mistake was made in the first place. Relatively few bloggers hold themselves to that standard.

It comes down to newspapers being much more transparent with readers online when we make a mistake. Credibility and accountability are some of the few tools we have to differentiate ourselves from our competitors.

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5 thoughts on “Critical Thinking: How Can Newspapers Regain The Trust Of Their Readership?

  • September 18, 2012 at 10:15 am

    How do newspapers regain trust? Simple. Be honest, truthful and let the reader decide. Currently, daily newspapers are on the side of the liberal agenda and it shows.

  • September 18, 2012 at 11:43 am

    From the top editors to the rookie reporters, newspapers must inculcate balanced political reporting. Extract the slanted headlines, positioning and reporting from the news columns and restore the partisan choices to the editorial and op-ed pages.

  • September 27, 2012 at 12:04 pm

    I am a student at UC San Diego and I am taking a marketing class by Chris Stiehl. I found this article quite interesting. You reported that a recent Gallup poll revealed that only 25 percent of adults expressed a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in newspapers. When was this Gallup poll done and what was your sample size? Perhaps there is non-response bias in this survey? Please explain? You are assuming that this poll has a perfect sample, is this really true? I think we need to be careful when looking at this data that you have presented

  • September 27, 2012 at 8:15 pm

    The election of 2008 drove the last nail in the lid of media honesty. Consumers have walked.

  • October 5, 2012 at 6:16 pm

    I applaud you Ms. Young, for drawing light to the erroneous Colorado shooting/Tea Party link. Fact of the matter is, that is but one of the countless smears the mainstream media (print and broadcast) have unjustifiably thrown the Republicans/conservatives/Tea Party’s way. This latest Jim Holmes example I believe was an honest mistake on the part of the ABC reporter. Fact of the matter is, it only goes to illustrate the undeniable and transparent bias and agenda of a mass majority of the media. Only an equally biased and/or blinded person would deny that. We all have our biases, OK, that’s human nature. But the way the media (and Hollywood, of course) have relentlessly gone after the Tea Party has been extremely, unjustifiably, terrifyingly despicable and appalling. There have been exactly ZERO acts of violence from the Tea Party and Right in general, and virtually (virtually, not all) all violent acts and violent rhetoric have come from self-described liberals/progressives. But where are the reports and clips of the countless borderline-uncivilized acts from the Occupy movement? That tells you everything you need to know right there–the transparent bias is appalling. So many “reporters” jumping through hoops (at best), and manufacturing fear and hate (at worst) to try to smear the side not compatible with their own ideologies. And the consequences are vast. There are millions tody among just the apolitical and self-described moderates who honestly believe Timothy Mcveigh was a Christian, right-wing terrorist due to the continued lies of the media. Compare that to the coverage of the Fort Hood shootings. Yet the bias-denial continues.


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