By David Baxley, SPJ South Carolina member, Assistant Professor of Mass Communication, Francis Marion University
Last year, amid the tumultuous 2016 election campaign, a Gallup poll revealed consumers’ trust in mass media sank to an all-time low. In fact, only 32 percent of people polled had “a great deal” or “fair amount of” trust in mass media when reporting news.
The survey revealed the lowest level of trust in mass media in Gallup polling history. Here’s the Gallup poll: http://www.gallup.com/poll/195542/americans-trust-mass-media-sinks-new-low.aspx
Since the election in early November, the media has been under attack from President Trump and his administration. News outlets have been called “fake” and news media have been assailed as “the enemy of the American people.” No justification for those derogatory remarks has been provided by the President and his close allies.
Now, news organizations face an uphill battle. Sitting in the doldrums of disrespected by many – especially those on the right – newsrooms across the country are looking to rebuild trust at a time when gatekeepers are few and far between. Fabricated stories and sites are posing a serious problem for journalism. In fact, a recent Pew Research Center survey revealed 23 percent of adults have shared fake news with friends and others. Here’s that survey: http://www.journalism.org/2016/12/15/many-americans-believe-fake-news-is-sowing-confusion/
Now more than ever, newsrooms are working to gain that trust back. First, newsrooms must diagnose the problem they are facing. Secondly, news managers must guide staff toward an all-encompassing engagement strategy with their consumers. Lastly, diversity and ethics must play an important role in changing the conversation between news organizations and news consumers.
“In our increasingly stressful world, people need to walk away from our newscast getting a complete picture of the world: the big story, the crime people are talking about, what their city is up to, the good that is happening around them and, yes, that cute video that is making people giggle,” said Tami Howard Carr, an executive producer at KTVT CBS 11 in Dallas.
Carr, who helps lead KTVT’s efforts through engagement, recognizes the current trends and how her station works to curb the distrust issue. “Social media Dallas news manager provides clarity on rebuilding trust has completely changed how we approach our day and gather news,” Carr said.
“While crime will always play some part in a local newscast, it’s more important now to find out what people are talking about and dealing within their lives. We know more about that now thanks to social media.”
The key for news organizations is to be “impactful”. Long gone are the stories of covering a quick 20-second car crash, the abandoned structure fire and the inconsequential school board meeting. News is a 24-hour investment by local multimedia news outlets. People seek out news they want — when they want it. According to Carr, the news hole sometimes includes feature stories which may not have been included years ago.
“The stories we do decide to put on TV must either impact our viewers, tell them something they didn’t know, entertain them, or catch them up on what is happening TODAY in their world,” Carr says. “I want our viewers to be the ones at the office water cooler telling everyone else the big story of the day—because they watched our newscast.”
Prior to KTVT, Carr worked at rival stations WFAA and KDFW in Dallas. She has also worked as assistant news director at WHO-TV in Des Moines, Iowa. She said the most challenging part of her day is finding relevant and impactful stories in the communities her station covers.
One of the ways local TV stations can remain relevant is through investigative news stories – even at a time with shrinking staff and revenue.
“I believe the DFW (Dallas-Fort Worth) market does a good job in covering impactful journalism. Each station has its own ‘investigative’ team in some form; and daily you see community-driven news in each of our newscasts,” Carr said. “The conversation of serving our communities is a constant conversation for us; it never ends.”
It doesn’t matter whether you work in a top 5 television market or in market 200, diversity plays a vital role. It can ultimately be the determining factor when it comes to what a news team covers each day. Understanding the impacts of various demographics is key to impactful journalism. News that reflects communities these news organizations serve can go a long way in connecting with the people in these neighborhoods.
“Producers must remember to seek out diversity, when necessary,” Carr said. “Don’t keep using the same male doctor as a health expert, repeatedly. Seek out women, young and old, black and Hispanic – their personal experiences keep content fresh and speak to all sections of the audience.”
Every day, journalists are under strict scrutiny from those who wish to discredit them. From fabricated stories on fake news sites to politicians working to discount the vital role of journalists, it is important to understand the role of ethics. Carr said now – more than ever – journalists must uphold the principles found in the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics.
“It’s why this is a critical time to drill down on ethics, said Carr. “It’s never been more important to get it right, stay neutral and be fair. Ethical discussions are a constant part of my day:
- Are we hearing from all sides of the debate?
- Are we fair?
- Are we thinking critically.
- Are we giving a story balance and meaningful coverage?”
Finally, news organizations must recognize the importance of fearless leaders. These leaders are at the core of how a news organization will rebuild confidence in daily news content – not only on the national news, but on the local scale, too.
Behind the scenes, countless people come together to put together a solid – and impactful – 30-minute newscast. It takes a production crew, assignment editors, writers, producers, executive producers, digital writers and producers, reporters, anchors and news managers to bring consumers a thought-provoking and entertaining newscast – one that Tami Carr said her viewers appreciate.
“This isn’t an 8-hour, 5 days a week job.”
“This isn’t an 8-hour, 5 days a week job,” said Carr. “You live this life. You wake up thinking about it and go to bed with it on your mind. If you aren’t ready to work long days and keep up with what’s going on, not just in your backyard, but around the world, you aren’t ready for news. If you are curious, resourceful, committed, have an eye for what is newsworthy, can be unbiased, are ethical, possess good spelling and grammar skills, a good multi-tasker and confident – this could just be the industry for you.”
Commitment from each person on the news staff is needed to fully engage news consumers, and to rebuild trust journalists desperately need now more than ever.
David Baxley is Assistant Professor of Mass Communications, Francis Marion University, and a SPJ South Carolina member. Baxley worked in broadcast news since 1999. He is also a meteorologist. Before entering academia in 2016, Baxley worked as an investigative producer at WIAT-TV in Birmingham, Alabama, for two years.