Many Americans have lost faith in the news media. According to Gallup, nearly four in 10 Americans completely lack confidence in the media – that’s the highest number in more than 50 years.
Walter Hussman Jr., former publisher of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, says a lack of objective reporting may be to blame.
“We need to approach this with a little humility, give as many facts as we can until it seems completely obvious, and let the readers decide for themselves,” Hussman said.
Hussman was part of a discussion on objectivity in journalism at the University of Mississippi’s School of Journalism and New Media. He was joined by Tony Pederson, former Houston Chronicle editor and journalism professor, who said historically, objectivity has meant getting the other side of the story, but he says there’s more to it than that.
“Journalism is about comprehensive, relentless reporting and fact-checking. If we do that, we’re going to be able to continue to produce journalism that really matters,” Pederson said.
The discussion was in part a response to a report from Leonard Downie Jr. and Andrew Heyward, both longtime journalists and professors at Arizona State University’s Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. “Beyond Objectivity: Producing Trustworthy News in Today’s Newsrooms” argues that “covering complex issues like climate change, race or sexuality from a “both-sides-ism” point of view could be damaging.”
Hussman disagreed with the report’s findings. “How many times in my experience in newspaper publishing have we thought we knew the truth and it turned out to be something different.”
The dean of the School of Journalism and New Media, Andrea Hickerson, said there may be another way for journalists to earn back audience trust.
“We don’t explain what we do very well. So, it often gets tripped up in values and political rhetoric,” she said.
Hickerson recommends journalists tell the audience more about how they get their stories, including the sources they use.
Panelists’ views diverged somewhat when asked whether former President Donald Trump’s “fake news” narrative has impacted media credibility.
“I’m inclined to think he hasn’t changed it that much,” Hickerson said. “He just vocalized what people already thought in some cases.”
Pederson said Trump’s criticism has impacted journalism credibility across the globe. “It’s been effective in helping discredit news media around the world, newspapers, broadcast and digital,” Pederson said.