A one-on-one with Trust Project CEO Sally Lehrman


A recent Gallup/Knight Foundation study revealed, "Only 26% of Americans have a favorable opinion of the news media, the lowest level since Gallup and Knight began tracking in 2017.”  But this study also suggests: "Many Americans are not solely skeptical of news today — they feel distrust on an emotional level, believing news organizations intend to mislead them and are indifferent to the social and political impact of their reporting.”

The main takeaway from the study may be that it states: “Emotional trust is more deeply rooted and is especially important to understand in the context of the news media. This study shows that emotional trust has a strong relationship to perceptions and behaviors that could harm the critical, mutually beneficial relationship between the health of the press and the health of U.S. democracy. The more emotional trust Americans have in the news, the more likely they are to say news organizations balance staying in business and serving the public well.”

These findings, published by Knight in February of 2023, help reaffirm the need for the news media industry to apply some form of self-directed standards to evaluate and score a news platform's level of credibility and trust.

One of the organizations that has been working towards this goal is the nonprofit, nonpartisan Trust Project, which defines itself as "a global network of news organizations working to affirm and amplify journalism's commitment to transparency, accuracy and inclusion." The method behind the scoring of a participating partner's news media platform is their eight Trust Indicators® which is "a collaborative, journalism-generated standard for news that helps both regular people and the technology companies’ machines easily assess the authority and integrity of news.”

As E&P has been reporting, the Trust Project has added media partners and "top line" funds to its spreadsheets, thanks to a recent $500,000 contribution from longtime supporter Craig Newmark Philanthropies.

The Trust Project operates as a consortium of top news companies led by founder and award-winning journalist Sally Lehrman

In this episode of "E&P Reports," Lehrman talks about the Trust Project's research of news consumers — called interview sets. Initial studies revealed that “many people work very hard to check and cross-check the news to be sure they can trust it. Others feel overwhelmed by the quantity of news. Still, others are frustrated and angry by what they feel is misrepresentation.” The Trust Project found out that “people wanted a lot more information about, as one interviewee put it, ‘how the story was built.” A summary of the project’s first round of interviews appears in Lehrman’s 2017 essay in The Atlantic: “What People Really Want From News Organizations.”

Lehrman goes on to say that more recent findings reveal that in 2020, everyone became more engaged with news, but there was a lot of anxiety as well. She stated, "(People) were upset about what they were reading in the news and anxious about it. They were worried that they'd heard about all the mis- and disinformation. They were worried that they would get fooled by it.”

Lehrman went on to say, "There's this middle group that I call the anxious middle who are ready and open for news they can trust. And it's just for us to walk into... In through the door that's open for us by them.”

In this 186th episode of “E&P Reports,” we explore the nonprofit, nonpartisan Trust Project as we chat one-on-one with its founder and CEO, Peabody Award-winning journalist  Sally Lehrman, who talks about the organizations founding in 2014 and the methods they employ today to: "Help news organizations make it clear that we do have standards and policies and rules that help journalists walk this path of independence and away from any kind of personal agenda, business agenda, or government agenda.”



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