Developing Trust in 5 Minutes

gingrasRichard Gingras elaborates on Trust Project ideas about signals that may build credibility.

Here’s his 5-minute talk on trust, maybe indulge me and watch it:

Like Richard says, we’re trying to keep the focus on the community of editors, reporters, and publishers that is developing ideas to win trust. What do you think the best ways to develop trust are?

A Trustworthy Press is the Immune System of Democracy

lincoln

I’m a news consumer. I’m not trying to tell anybody how to do their job, or how to fix the news. I’m not in the business, and will respect professional boundaries.

I just want news I can trust. I also want to help reward good, honest journalism.

Since I’m not an expert, I have to defer to those who are. I’ve spent about ten years talking to a lot of these folks, and have recently joined the boards of Poynter Institute and Columbia Journalism Review, in addition to the Center for Public Integrity and Sunlight Foundation.

I do feel that most journalists perform admirably, but it takes very little to compromise trust in a news publication.

There’re good reasons to hope for the restoration of “the immune system of democracy,” but here’s a little of what gives me bad nights:

      • Dean Starkman shows us that the press fully knew that the economy was a mess during the last decade, but never told the American public about it. (Have the problems really been fixed?)
      • There was a fake IRS scandal, where the press was alerted to the problem by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), but this received little or no coverage.
      • Six billion in cash was “lost” in Iraq, but the only real coverage was in Vanity Fair (I’ve asked, they tell me that article is fully fact checked).
      • There’s what Jon Stewart calls the “CNN leaves it there” problem, where a news outlet knowingly airs clear-cut lying and then repeats it.
      • It’s also not uncommon for the press to – deliberately or not – assist in the creation of propaganda or hoaxes – things like the so-called Obamacare “death panels” which had no basis in reality but were presented by the press as though they did. In fact, the press has never consistently and relentlessly set the record straight on Obamacare.
      • danah boyd succinctly reports of the most fundamental problem, in “First: Do No Harm” where she notes the journalistic tendency to accept survey results, even if a little looking would reveal them to be fake. The bottom line:

But since when did the practice of journalism allow for uncritically making shit up? ::shaking head:: Where’s the fine line between poor journalism and fabrication?

Old school, editors expected reporters to get stuff right, they prized their credibility, weren’t so concerned about selling ads. That message: “get it right.” Plausible fake news could get through the editors, but it was considered wrong.

New school, of recent years, seems to send the message: “don’t get caught.” Editors don’t seem to care as long as the fakeness is good enough, and sensationalist enough to sell ads.

Nowadays a lie gets everywhere before a good actor can even respond.

Please remember that I do feel that most journalists perform admirably, but it takes very little to compromise trust in a news publication.

That is, it looks to me like the vast majority of people in news try really hard, and perform admirably under intense pressure.

However, often the requirement is only that a story must be plausible, and under pressure, that replaces due diligence and accountability, except in black and white situations, like plagiarism.

So, we see a lot of “stenography,” particularly in politics, the acceptance of received or conventional wisdom, per the story subjects described earlier. Jon Stewart illustrated this when he showed the visible reaction of a reporter, responding to an obvious political lie, who had to “leave it there”…repeated every half hour.

Good news, everyone!

There are hardass press organizations insisting on stricter ethics and accountability, like the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) and the Online News Association (ONA).

Me, I’m not looking to be a hardass. I know the news business is brutally tough. I’m not looking for perfection. As a news consumer, I’m happy with a good faith effort.

Do your best to get it right. If you do, great. If you don’t, admit you got it wrong, fix it, even if hard, and try harder next time.

And we should reward journalists and press outlets that are practicing good, honest journalism.

Recently, I heard about the Trust Project at the factcheckMarkkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University in cooperation with Richard Gingras, a longtime advocate of innovation in journalism, who happens to oversee Google News.

Jeff Jarvis built on this work. He suggested that Google News give higher rankings to news reports that are probably more trustworthy, rewarding ethical practice in maybe the best way possible.

(I don’t think I present Jeff’s ideas well here, but he seems to be the pointy end of the spear regarding news ethics, on the professional side.)

“More trustworthy” is a really difficult problem, it involves figuring out ways that articles propagate signals regarding their trustworthiness.

      • The publisher should have a code of ethics/trust comparable to that of the SPJ or ONA.
      • The publisher should hold itself accountable, not only prominently correcting errors, but propagating those corrections where they’ve flowed to other publishers.
      • Google News could uprank articles which have strong codes of ethics with accountability, and maybe downrank articles which don’t show corrections.
      • I’d like to think crowdsourcing could help, but disinformation professionals may be really too good to overcome.

That’s just the beginning of conversation, which is mission-critical for the survival of American democracy. How do we refine these signals into something useful? What other signals are useful? What can you add?

Remember, I’m just a news consumer like most people, unfortunately the pointy end of the spear from that perspective.

I just want news I can trust.

Note: After a reader called to our attention that the quote, “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on,” was not said by Winston Churchill, we knew we had to do the same thing we think the media should do when someone calls out an error – admit it and fix it. Currently the author is unknown, and the quote was removed from the post.

Why Trustworthy News Should Matter More

factcheckWe’re living in a society where trustworthy news should matter more than it seems to. As I’ve been saying, the press should be the immune system of democracy, and needs to fulfill that role again.

And just a reminder that factchecking efforts only have value, it’s felt, if:

  • Misinformation is corrected, in a way that doesn’t reinforce the lie.
  • Any involved news outlets are encouraged to avoid promoting misinformation.
  • Regular people, the broad citizenry, have the means to easily help media correct misinformation and encourage news outlets to restore factchecking.

More to come, and soon…

Trustworthy journalism in a fact-checking-free world

Getting real about trustworthy journalism

Okay, I really just want news I can trust.

Couple years ago, I blurted out that “the press should be the immune system of democracy.”

Personally, I really don’t like being lied to, but my deal here is that our social contract with the news business is that they hold the powerful to account.

In return, we buy the products of news outlets, and give news professionals certain protections, like the US First Amendment and shield laws.

That gives the press a lot of power, which means that the news industry itself needs to be accountable. That’s a lot easier said than done, and it’s only getting harder to do.

However, if a journalist or news outlet isn’t trustworthy, is it worth buying? Is it good for the country?

factcheck
Well, I’m not in the news business, I’m an outsider, but over years I’ve spent a lot of time with people in the business, and I’ve gotten glimpses as to how the sausage is made. That means I gotta respect boundaries, and not tell people how to do their job.

That job gets more and more challenging, and even good news orgs can have lapses. I’m good with that, if they fix those lapses and hold themselves otherwise accountable, in good faith. Sure, there’re legal consequences, but the bottom line is driven by trustworthy actions.

The solution involves:

Turns out that what we have now are a lot of ethics codes and policies, but very little accountability.

To make sense of this, here’s the kind of lapse I’m talking about, none of which seems to have been addressed.

1. NBC selectively edited a video and badly misrepresented a guy in a real ugly case. Not clear if they’ve come clean about it yet.

Suggestion: news outlets should make the full recording available, perhaps via a discreet rapid-response accountability team.

2. Sometimes a news outlet might broadcast a public figure lying, even when they know it’s a lie. This is what Jon Stewart calls the “CNN leaves it there” problem.

Suggestion: Reporters are smart, if they know they’re being lied to, don’t broadcast it. If they smell a lie but not sure, do a good faith fact-check.

3. Sometimes a news outlet does fact-checking and “forgets” to follow through. This has happened to me, but more importantly, happened to Jimmy Wales very recently, in the NY Times:

“It is very odd and filled with a lot of basic factual errors. For example, it says that Wikipedia was run out of a strip mall at one point – that’s just completely false and a very weird thing to have said, particularly since I explained to the fact checker that it was wrong!”

Suggestion: do fact-checking, and then, correct any falsehoods.

4. Sometimes multiple news outlets will report first, without fact-checking, doing a lot of damage. This was particularly true in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon attack.

Suggestion: confirm facts before publication.

5. Sometimes, news outlets don’t do their research, get a story badly wrong, and really hurts the country. This is very true regarding the recent IRS scandal, the real story is more about Congressional failure and that the IRS isn’t targeting enough possibly bogus charities.

Suggestion: use actual fact-checked research. Using other news reports as sources is not reliable. Reporting should be transparent about the political motivations of the people pushing the story. Specifically, journalists need to make sure they spend as much “good faith” time in exploring agendas as they do in seeking sources and exploring “the facts” they are made privy to.If so, the story would be perceived differently, perhaps accurately.

The news business is under considerable pressure, competing for a shrinking audience, often having to come up with many new stories per day. Sometimes the facts just can’t be checked, which is a big reason I keep talking about “good faith.”

My personal bias is that the news industry should create their own accountability tools. I don’t think they’ll be perfect, just looking for good faith action.

However, right now people are stirring the pot, constructively, suggesting that the government intervene.

Specifically, people are suggesting that “journalists” should have US First Amendment and shield law protections. Non-professionals, specifically “bloggers,” might be denied those protections.

I think that way of doing it is wrong, and that the issue isn’t “journalist vs. blogger” but whether or not the reporter and news outlet are accountable. Here, “accountable” means “acting in good faith to be trustworthy” which means having an ethics code and honestly trying hard to follow that code.

Does a journalist or news outlet without accountability have legal protections?

You can find a great summary by Mathew Ingram, which incorporates a lot of good work from Jillian York, Jeff Jarvis, David Weinberger, and others.

However, any news outlet that wants to succeed must be trustworthy, that is, accountable. I feel that’s required for their survival, and for national survival.

Perhaps people in news can suggest how they can get to actual accountability?

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