We need to earn your trust

Trust in the media has never been lower and it has never been more important for the media to be right. According to a Gallup poll, 32% of Americans say they have a great deal or fair amount of trust in the media. This is down eight percent from last year.

This statistic is not wholly unsurprising since it comes on the heels of “fake news” and “enemy of the people” comments that have many journalists feeling defensive. While usually, we might be inclined to agree, it has become noticeable that the media has been derelict in its duties of reporting, analyzing and breaking down news for the public. In this Trump era, news sites jump on every new tweet the president sends. However, not every comment by the president is newsworthy just because he says or tweets it. And unfortunately, news companies do people no favors by jumping on a tweet and retweeting it without doing their due diligence.

Last month, USA Today got into some hot water for publishing an op-ed by Trump without ensuring a coinciding fact check. Associated Press and several other news outlets have gotten into trouble for tweeting out comments made by Trump without including context. It’s sad to say but the news media is partly culpable for the spread of misinformation by retweeting comments without analysis or context. By doing so, they provide no new information to their audience and are perpetrating whatever lies the president says. This is an era of news opacity and now more than ever, people need to know that their news outlets are providing them with accurate information. And if they are reporting on comments made by someone else, they need to make sure to fact check those comments. Trump has a tendency to lie and try to get away with what he can. As journalists, we can’t allow that. We have to catch every lie and call it that.

Part of the problem with the media today is that many outlets twist themselves into knots to avoid using certain language that could be deemed negative. While journalists should always strive to be objective, when the media calls a lie a “falsehood” they make communication with the audience more difficult because they are trying so hard to do word gymnastics to avoid certain terms. If someone lies, it should be called a lie. The public has difficulty trusting the media as is, we should make it easier by speaking plainly. And the same goes with saying that someone’s comments were “racially insensitive”. In plain speak: they said something racist.

Journalists have a lot of jargon and words at their disposal, but it’s our duty to be able to convey information to the public as clearly as we can while also providing analysis so that lies are not perpetrated. That is every journalist’s goal.

But we are human, and we are fallible. We are journalism’s greatest strength and weakness. The human element of journalism is what makes readers from all over feel connected when reading an article. It’s also how mistakes can get by us and how reporting is never 100 percent perfect. But the effort is there.

Journalists don’t choose their career for the money (because heads-up: There really isn’t any), or for the accolades (angry letters are more common), or because of the burgeoning growth of the field (yes, we know, print is dying). Journalists choose to become journalists because they care about people and they care about telling the truth and disseminating information that affects people’s lives. Simple as that. So while we can’t guarantee that we will always get everything right, we promise to try.

The first step to do this is to make a concerted effort to call out lies, fact check everything and publish the fact check concurrently with the running article and be transparent and honest with the American people. Truth is a rare commodity and the press has the power to wield it. It’s now our responsibility to make sure that we honor and protect it by keeping others honest and being honest ourselves.