Lynn Walsh: Journalists can help rebuild trust in the news

Lynn Walsh, Trusting News talked with Lynn Walsh, assistant director of Trusting News, an organization that “aims to demystify trust in news and empower journalists to take responsibility for actively demonstrating credibility and earning trust.” Walsh is a past SPJ national president and an Emmy award-winning journalist who has worked in investigative journalism at the national level and locally in California, Ohio, Texas and Florida.

Walsh, along with Founder and Director of Trusting News, Joy Mayer, will conduct a workshop, “How Any Journalist Can Earn Trust,” Sept. 8 in New Orleans at the National News Leaders Association conference. The cost is only $30 for the session.

Sizing Up The South: A lot of people blame the internet for the distrust of the news media because of so many biased and illegitimate news sites that are competing with legitimate news sources. But what responsibility does the legitimate news industry (print, online and broadcast) take for the downfall of trust in the media? What did we miss? What have we learned so we don’t make the same mistakes in the future?

Lynn Walsh, Trusting News: Technology changes the way people consume information and get their news, but we can’t blame the internet for the mistrust in journalism. I think it was a perfect storm. News organizations, for the most part, didn’t keep up with the technological changes as they happened. Instead, we kept producing news the same we had for 20, 30, 40 years before. I think we are doing a much better job of keeping up with the technological changes now, but it’s still not perfect. One of the major issues was labeling content. In a newspaper, we could control where content went. People knew a story was someone’s opinion because it was on the opinion page. We can’t put content in perfectly organized packages like that anymore. Our content gets spread across so many platforms, and we need to make sure the label comes with it.  

SUS: How is this media distrust different from the days of Yellow Journalism in the U.S.? How did the press regain trust when tabloid journalism was all the rage in the 1890s? William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer are associated with yellow journalism and sensationalized news was prevalent in the dailies with fact-checking and research in reporting going out the window. Can you draw on any similarities, or is it a different time, different battle?

Lynn Walsh: I think this is different because legitimate journalism, journalism that is accurate, fair, provides context is being attacked as “fake news.” In most cases, these attacks are an attempt to delegitimize facts because someone doesn’t like what’s being said.

“I also think this is different because, for the most part, ethical news organizations, the local TV and radio stations, the local newspapers and online news groups, are not trying to sensationalize stories. They really are reporting accurate and fair information.”

Lynn Walsh, assistant director of Trusting News has heard from a lot of journalists, at both hyperlocal and large news organizations, who have experienced a shift in negative attitudes within families and friends toward the news media. Some journalists have shared that family and long-term relationships have ended because they work as a news journalist. While the news industry battles to repair the masses’ perception of the news media, how can we also help the individual journalist champion their career and profession while so many are criticizing or condemning news journalism on a personal level? 

Remind people of the impact your stories have on your community and their daily lives. Remember, journalism isn’t just politics and breaking news, says Walsh. NASA photo

Lynn Walsh: The best way we can do this is by talking about what we do. Explain how you find a story, how you decide who to interview, how you decide what to include in the story. Remind people of the impact your stories have on the community and their daily lives. Remember, journalism isn’t just politics and breaking news. Remind people of the other important stories you cover: schools closing, water quality. Also, invite people into the reporting process. Ask for feedback when selecting stories, who to interview. 

Donald Trump

SUS: President Trump is constantly stating “fake news” when news organizations report on negative aspects of his presidency. Why do you think so many Americans take Trump’s word on “fake news” over legitimate news organizations? Does the news industry have to create its own platform to counter Trump and other governmental officials use of rhetoric against the news industry? Is this what Trusting News is doing? If not, what is your approach?

Lynn Walsh: I think to combat this rhetoric, we need to explain our process and be transparent about how we do our jobs. We also need to report better than we ever have. Make sure our stories are accurate, sourced, and important. Trusting News is here to help rebuild trust between the public and journalists. Obviously, President Trump and others’ rhetoric isn’t helping some members of the public trust journalists, but our goal is to work with journalists on being transparent, ask for feedback and engage with users. 

SUS: There is apathy in the journalism profession. With layoffs, buyouts and societal disapproval, are there steps for news journalists and newsrooms to take to rebuild our enthusiasm about our profession and also answer the tough questions from our readers and viewers who are looking for balanced news and transparency yet feel they are not receiving it? 

Lynn Walsh: Remembering to highlight our work, the small victories, is important. When you break news that matters, highlight that and share that internally and externally. We also need to support one another more even if we are competitors.

Walsh says future journalists “can write your own ticket once you learn the basics and can prove you are an ethical journalist who is willing to work hard. Wiki photo

SUS: Recently a study was released that some journalism professors are steering journalism students to go into public relations rather than news journalism. Yes, the income numbers can easily change a student’s mind, but do you think the battle of “distrust in the media” itself is deterring young people to avoid a job in news journalism? If so, how do we convince young people to see news journalism as a honorable profession? How do we as journalists teach them to become media literate along with the rest of the planet? Is Trusting News talking to journalism students? And what are they hearing from them about the “distrust” issue?

Lynn Walsh: At Trusting News we talk to working journalists but also students. Some of the best examples from our news partners have come from student newsrooms. If I’m a student, I think this really is the best time to be working in news. Now, news organizations seem more open than ever to experimenting with storytelling, platforms and style. You really can write your own ticket once you learn the basics and can prove you are an ethical journalist who is willing to work hard. 

Q & A prepared by Sharon Dunten

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