How can editors revive public trust in media?

Rebuilding trust in journalism and the media emerged as one of the most pressing industry challenges at a brainstorming session held by WAN-IFRA during the Tech Open Air festival in Berlin earlier this month.

by WAN-IFRA Staff | August 13, 2013

In a world where there is greater reliance on content produced by the public, accuracy, independence and accountability are critical issues that underpin credibility.

For tech-minded journalists, none of these issues have proven insurmountable. We have seen several programmes and organisations built, like Politifact and Storyful, to help promote trust in journalism, as well as a host of innovative tools that work to improve the accuracy of digital content. Some of these have emerged from news challenges, where journalists and developers are paired in competitions to find solutions to big problems.

But, rebuilding (or building) the public’s trust in the media is more complex than just developing digital tools. For news organisations to move forward, more needs to be done to ensure that journalism, not just the facts, withstand scrutiny.

As Sebastian Horn, also writing about the Ideathon on the Sourcefabric website, noted: “Journalists love challenging other people’s facts. But when it comes to letting other people challenge facts in journalism, there isn’t much going on. Can we think of an interface that lets readers flag information in an article and provide contradicting information (e.g. links) to back up their challenge?”

Randy Covington, director of WAN-IFRA’s newsroom training at Newsplex, said, “We live in an age in which everyone can be a publisher. There are many voices and some of them are very powerful. Facing this increasingly competitive landscape, I think that there are several things newspapers need to do in order to retain trust and position their own news organizations for the future.”

Some basic practices and principles include:

  • Using hyperlinks to show source material;
  • Inviting comments to be posted online alongside or at the end of an article
  • Engaging an in-house or outsourced fact checking service
  • Prizing accuracy over speed in breaking news
  • Make journalists accessible to readers: have photos of them, share online bios with their background and experience, provide contact details and allow them to interact with readers on comment pages.

However, we must recognise that these tools have the potential to cause problems. In a response to the launch of Politifact AustraliaGuardian journalist Brownen Clune argues that fact checking services might leave readers preoccupied with facts and figures, and dismissive of analysis: “Journalism is about unearthing facts – not just accurate ones but the right ones, difficult ones, uncomfortable ones, and putting them in context. There is a critical distinction in news reporting between recording information and understanding and framing it.”

The Ideathon laid the foundation for upcoming hackathons in Berlin, Singapore and Bangalore, India. The Berlin hackathon will take place on 5-6 October, just before the start of WAN-IFRA’s World Publishing Expo (7-9 October). Click here for more details about these upcoming events.

By Katie Ebner-Landy

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