Imagine when you started your day, everyone you met listened carefully to opposing arguments, believed that media outlets across the political spectrum are fair and reliable, and the critical thinking skills of the public were so well-developed that they would never fall for fake news stories.
Can you envision that scenario in our nation today?
We can’t either. That’s one of the many reasons we created the Fresno State Institute for Media and Public Trust. We thought too many people were complaining about the problem of media trust and fake news, but didn’t have a basic understanding of how media operate in the 21st century. On top of that, they weren’t offering any solutions beyond their complaints.
There had to be a better way than just wringing our hands. And while this problem is monumental, it won’t get fixed by standing still. We believe what we are doing at Fresno State has the possibility of bringing people together, and arming them with information and facts.
There’s no easy answer to the trust gap between media and news consumers, and we won’t solve this problem over night. But it is real, and that division is not good for our democracy.
We can’t continue to talk past each other, and demonize those with whom we don’t agree. It will take hard work and a commitment by people who believe we can do better. We want to start a continuing conversation that seeks solutions.
Fortunately, everywhere we have taken this idea, it has been embraced by people – and these are people across the political spectrum. They come together on the premise that we must solve the problem.
We believe we are at the beginning stages of something very big. We want you all to be a part of it. This is going to be a movement of many hands.
The Media Institute has found a home here at Fresno State in the College of Arts and Humanities and the Department of Media, Communications and Journalism. The Institute already has had two successful programs and media coverage across California. We have been asked to speak at regional and national events. We are making a splash.
In the first four months of our Media Institute, we’ve talked to many news consumers about the challenges media outlets face as they try to re-connect with those who consume their content. There’s not only a “trust gap,” but also a “knowledge gap” between media and their readers, listeners and viewers.
This is amazing when you think about it. People who are in the communications business do very little to explain how their own businesses operate. People would trust media more, according to experts, if they knew how each news outlet goes about gathering material for their news reports. Transparency is crucial.
The American Press Institute reports that most people are unfamiliar with terms that many journalists use, such as the difference between an editorial and a news story, what the term “attribution” means, or what an op‑ed is. Below is more from API on its findings. (The language seems newspaper-centered, but broadcast and digital outlets also should be explaining how they operate).
“Fully 50 percent of the public say they are only a little familiar with the term ‘op‑ed,’ or don’t know what it is. Just 28 percent of people say they are highly familiar with the term — which refers to content on the opinion pages of newspapers written by columnists and guest writers,” according to API. “The term originally came from print: An op‑ed was on the facing or opposite page of the editorials in a newspaper. This is a clear case of old newspaper terminology losing its meaning as we move into new formats.
“Yet it is hardly the only concept where there is substantial confusion. More than 4 in 10 adults (43 percent) say they don’t really know what the term ‘attribution’ means in journalism, quite a bit more than the 30 percent who say they do understand that concept.
“And most people, 57 percent, say they have little or no idea what the term ‘native advertising,’ means, which is also known as ‘sponsored content’ and refer to paid marketing content that resembles other editorial content in the publication. Just 18 percent say they are very or completely familiar with the term.”
To increase trust, news consumers must understand how media outlets operate, and know the meaning of the terms that journalist use in describing their work. At our Media Institute, we are working to improve the knowledge base by increasing media literacy and starting a conversation between media outlets and the public they serve.