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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.
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.
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.
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.
Your weekly issue of Get Smart About News is created by Peter Adams (@PeterD_Adams), Suzannah Gonzales and Hannah Covington (@HannahCov) of the News Literacy Project. It is edited by NLP’s Mary Kane (@marykkane).
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