Teach news literacy this week Media trust insights | Covering Minneapolis | Spotting fake science
Values, trust and media
It can be tempting to view the public’s distrust of the news media as simply a matter of political differences. But a recent study offers new ways of looking at and addressing the “media trust crisis.” It suggests that not all Americans embrace the core values that journalists follow in their work, and that this misalignment — rather than partisanship — may help better explain media trust divides. For example, people who value authority and loyalty may be wary of journalists’ role as watchdogs over the powerful.
“When journalists say they are just doing their jobs, in other words, the problem is many people harbor doubts about what the job should be,” the report said.
The study was released on April 14 by the Media Insight Project — a collaboration of the American Press Institute and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research — and examined “public attitudes toward five core values of journalistic inquiry.”
These values include acting as watchdogs over powerful people; making information open and transparent; valuing facts in pursuit of truth; offering a voice to those lacking power; and shining light on societal problems.
Only 11% of Americans fully embrace all five of these principles, the study found. The importance of facts in pursuit of truth attracted the most widespread support (67%), while just 29% of Americans embraced spotlighting social problems as an effective way to solve them. Distrust among these groups, the study points out, “goes beyond traditional partisan politics.”
The study highlights ways that news organizations can rebuild trust without compromising core values. Simple tweaks to headlines, first sentences and story framing, for instance, can go a long way to broaden the appeal of news reports among a wider audience.
Idea: Ask students to examine the five core journalism values included in the study (Page 7). Then discuss which values students agree or disagree with. How do their responses as a class compare with the graphic above? Consider having students poll friends or relatives on these values, or assign them to interview someone on how much they do or do not trust news media.
Another idea: Have students review the example news stories used in the study (Pages 76-78). Ask them to compare the standard versions with the revised versions, which were reframed to emphasize a different angle or value(s). Which version do students prefer? Why might the revised version appeal to a broader audience?
Viral rumor rundown
★ Viral rumor review: You can find the classroom-ready slides for this week's rundown here.
NO: Neither McDonald’s nor Coca-Cola has announced that “no whites will be hired in top positions” in their companies. YES: McDonald’s announced in February a set of policies designed to promote diversity, equity and inclusion at the company, including “increasing the representation of historically underrepresented groups in leadership roles.” YES: Coca-Cola announced in February a commitment to making the diversity of its staff, including leadership positions, “mirror the markets” it serves by 2030. YES: This “copypasta” meme has circulated online since at least Feb. 25.
NO: Daunte Wright did not have a warrant out for his arrest when he was stopped by police in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, on April 11 because he had missed a notice of hearing sent to the wrong address. YES: The outstanding warrant for Wright’s arrest when he was shot and killed by an officer had been issued after he missed a court appearance for a different case. YES: The video in this Instagram post was created by comedian Walter Masterson and published to his popular TikTok account. YES: Masterson deleted the video after it was proven false and posted a correction (warning: profanity).
Note: Masterson used Minnesota Court Records Online — a website that gives the public access to Minnesota district court records — and appears to have misinterpreted what he found there.
Tip: Non-experts often misinterpret specialized information. Exercise caution when evaluating claims made about this type of raw information, particularly when they are from a non-expert.
Also note: Pieces of misinformation do not only go viral on the platform they were originally published to, and often continue to spread even after the original is flagged or deleted.
Discuss: Do you think this falsehood was created on purpose? Did this video have a negative impact, despite Masterson’s intentions? What does this example teach us about pitfalls of raw information, such as court records, or non-experts? Did Masterson handle this correctly after he learned his initial video was inaccurate?
NO: George Floyd’s younger brother is not named Dejywan Floyd. YES: This person is entirely unrelated to George Floyd, despite having the same last name.
Note: This rumor emerged shortly after Philonise Floyd, George’s younger brother, testified on April 12 in the murder trial of Derek Chauvin, who has been charged in Floyd’s death. Philonise broke down in tears during his testimony while describing his brother’s devotion to their mother.
Tip: Purveyors of disinformation often use recent developments and seeds of truth — in this case a name coincidence and a real criminal case — to make their lies go viral, sometimes to counter positive narratives shared elsewhere.
NO: Burger King restaurants in the United States do not have a policy requiring guests to provide photo identification before they can sit at the same table. YES: The Canadian province of Manitoba has a COVID-19 policy requiring restaurants to “take reasonable measures to ensure that all persons seated at a table in an indoor area … reside in the same private residence,” including by checking “identification that shows their address.”
Tip: Purveyors of misinformation often combine two timely, controversial issues — such as COVID-19 restrictions and voting laws — to provoke an emotional response and drive higher engagement on social media.
Ask a Journalist
Q: As a journalist, how do you know if the witness or source is credible? (Aiden, 11th grade, Iowa)
A: There’s a saying in newsrooms, “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.” This means that standards-based journalists do not automatically believe a source’s word, including eyewitness accounts. They work to verify not only the credibility of the source providing the information, but also the accuracy of the information itself before using it in news reports.
Let’s say, for instance, a person gives a news tip to a standards-based journalist. The journalist may work to confirm information by interviewing others in positions to know or by checking relevant documents. Speaking of documents, those need to be verified also. Did the documents come from a credible source, such as a courthouse? A responsible journalist would check if they weren’t sure. Journalists also check people’s identities on the internet and in databases of public records to confirm they are who they say they are. Even when a source doesn’t want their name used in a story, journalists still verify their identity.
After confirming that a source is credible and their information checks out, journalists often describe for their audience how the source is connected to the story and why they’re in a position to speak on the topic. In certain stories, eyewitness accounts can sometimes conflict with other accounts, such as officials’ statements. Journalists work to balance these points of view in their coverage.
Thanks, Aiden, for your great question! Did we miss anything? Feel free to tweet us at @NewsLitProject or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org so we can continue the conversation.
What should we tackle next? Submit your questions using this link, and you may see them answered in upcoming issues of The Sift!
Discuss: Why is it important for journalists to interview a variety of sources for a story? Are some sources more reliable than others? Are there any pitfalls or limitations for different types of sources (eyewitness, official, expert, documentation, etc.) that journalists should keep in mind?
Idea: Contact a local journalist to get some thoughts on how to make sure sources are credible.
Minneapolis again made national news after a police officer shot and killed Daunte Wright in a nearby suburb during a traffic stop on April 11. When word of the shooting spread, many news organizations were already in the area covering the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in the death of George Floyd. This piece highlights several important observations about news coverage following the shooting, including reports of some local journalists being denied access to a news conference; heated interactions between police, protesters and members of the press; and renewed questions and criticisms of using words like “police say,” “accidental” and “officer-involved shooting” in news reports.
Note: The shooting also reignited an ongoing debate over how journalists should report information from police sources, including calls not to "parrot police language" and to distinguish between "accidental" and "negligent discharge" in news coverage.
Also note: Several journalism organizations issued a joint statement on April 14 expressing concern over reports of police threatening to arrest journalists if they did not leave the protests. Some journalists have also reported being assaulted and detained by law enforcement, which Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz called “unacceptable.”
One more note: The South Asian Journalists Association and Asian American Journalists Association released guidelines with historical context and style guidance on the Sikh community for news organizations covering the shooting at an Indianapolis FedEx facility. Some of those who died were reported to have been Sikh.
Discuss: How did you learn about the shooting and protests that followed? How did you know whether the information was credible? Did you come across anything that you later learned was false?
Idea: Ask students to read the journalism organizations’ joint statement and reflect on journalists’ role in “covering the news as the eyes and ears of the people.” What if news organizations were not on the ground reporting events as they unfolded? What separates journalists’ purpose for being at the scene from others who may also be recording or sharing what they are seeing? Have students write their thoughts in a short response.
Discuss: What “weaknesses of human minds” do those spreading science disinformation try to take advantage of? What is “peer review” and why is it important? What is “exciting” about some scientific studies? How can this affect news coverage of these studies?
Idea: Challenge students to make Zimmer’s six tips into an infographic or public service announcement video.
Note: You can listen to this Morning Edition segment here.
Discuss: What grade (A through F) would you give YouTube for enforcing its community standards (rules) and its content moderation efforts? Can belief in one conspiracy theory lead to belief in others? According to Kate Starbird (the disinformation expert interviewed in this piece), why does misinformation on YouTube become “a problem for the whole information ecosystem”?
Idea: Ask students to find someone who has been affected by misinformation (for example, a relative who has fallen prey to conspiracy theories) and interview them about their experience.
Discuss: Why do you think social media platforms suggest other content and accounts that might interest their users? Do you think the average user understands how these suggestions work? Do you? What steps should social media companies take to make sure their algorithms don’t suggest harmful content?
Idea: Have students keep a “suggestion algorithm journal” in which they record every piece of content or account recommended to them on the social media platform they spend the most time on. Then have students compare their findings in groups.