Earning Trust In An Age of Fake News

If I were to ask you, “what makes for a good newspaper,” most of you would probably respond with words like “fair,” “balanced,” “truthful,” “and “unbiased” as part of your description of a paper that addresses relevant issues and provides timely information. I think such a description can be summed up in one word: trustworthy. Unfortunately, our collective trust in news media continues to lessen. A 2017 Pew Research Center survey found that a majority of Americans think news organizations “tend to favor one side” and while the majority have “some trust” in news media, a startlingly low number of Americans have “a lot of trust” in the news media. Regardless of our political affiliations, we should all be gravely concerned about the loss of trust in journalism.
The term “fake news” has entered our lexicon and whether its usage is sincere or ironic, the prevalence of the term warrants our attention. Fakeness is a form of dishonesty and there is a sense in which “fake news” can be (and often is) understood to mean “outright lies.” And yet fake is an intriguing word when placed in the context of trust. When we talk about people being fake, we normally mean that they’re disingenuous or inauthentic. Even absent malicious intention, fakeness in people is antithetical to building trust. There is something about authenticity, about being who you really are and not pretending to be someone different, that allows for trust to form. If the analogy holds true, my suggestion is that what we are looking for in a paper is a certain internal integrity, an authenticity in which what the paper says it is corresponds with what it actually is. And if the paper claims objectivity and if it tells its readers that it is a paper for them, then that paper is authentic if it is indeed objective and if it indeed offers itself fairly and equally to all its readers. Of course, no paper is perfect, just like no person is perfect, but trust is built when integrity is consistent.

What are we to do then in this age of anxiety and distrust? In her 2014 interview with Krista Tippett on the On Being podcast, journalist Michel Martin describes journalism as being “a bridge to people who are isolated for whatever reason.” She says that when people entrust their stories to you, they are giving a gift: “I feel that they have given me something precious. And it’s my job to protect it.” And in addition to receiving that gift, journalists also have the responsibility to do what Krista calls “bearing witness to reality.” I think this is a perfect way to understand the work we are called to do. And as for readers, I think it is absolutely crucial that we continue to provide accountability to the papers we read. It really is that simple, I think, but it certainly is not easy.

I am committed to helping our paper continue to be a trustworthy source of news, a fair source of opinions, and an authentic representation of our school and its diverse community. I know that the team of editors I am blessed to work with share this vision as well. Readers, please know that we are committed to earning and keeping your trust and please continue to hold us accountable to the vision our community has given us, to be a paper that is authentic, truthful, and consistent in its integrity. Together, we can continue to make Eastern University a place where trust enables strong and lasting relationships.

Sources: Pew Research Center; On Being with Krista Tippett

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