When we established the Institute for Media and Public Trust at Fresno State three years ago, I was asked if our work to identify fake news and promote media literacy represented short-term problems that would sort themselves out in a few years on their own. We now know that these challenges not only aren’t going to be solved anytime soon, they have grown dramatically as bad actors have become more sophisticated in manipulating images and content..

This was underscored in 2020 with highly coordinated disinformation campaigns that distorted our national election debate as well as misrepresenting scientific information about the COVID-19 pandemic. Foreign governments used social media to sow dissent in our country and political groups used internet platforms to attack opponents with phony claims and distortions. Some internet claims about the pandemic not only mislead the public, but also caused health risks by pushing unproven “remedies” to vulnerable populations.

So on the third birthday of our Institute, it is clear that we have much work ahead of us to empower media consumers with the skills to make smart decisions about the content they consume on internet platforms. In fact, our work is needed now more than ever.

In addition to explaining the Institute’s mission, I also wanted to take this occasion to discuss some of our accomplishments, and our plans as we begin our fourth year.

The First Amendment is at the heart of our work, and we have held several programs explaining how the five freedoms embedded in the amendment impact and enhance our everyday lives. We believe that an informed citizenry is crucial to a strong democracy. The First Amendment gives media outlets the freedom to do their work without government intervention. But they must do it responsibly. (In our Institute work, we also have sometimes served as an arbiter on media ethics issues.)

We have also worked on improving media literacy education, especially in the K-12 schools. You’d think that young people who have grown up with digital platforms would understand them better, but research shows that isn’t the case.  A study by the Stanford History Education Group of high school students revealed that 90 percent of students did not have a reasonable understanding of the digital sources they were accessing on the internet. We will continue to push for media literacy in our schools.

The Institute is also looking for ways to bridge the trust gap between media outlets and news consumers. One way is to explain how stories are gathered and the importance of the editing process prior to the stories being published. We believe that transparency is the key to building trust. In our first year, we offered news sites 10 tips to help rebuild trust with readers, viewers and listeners. They hold up three years later. We are especially concerned about the growing trend of media outlets using click-bait headlines and social media posts to mislead the public into thinking a big story happened locally. When you click on the item, you find that the “local” story is is actually in a community several states away. That does not improve a media outlet’s trust.

In our three years, we have held several public forums on media issues. It is our hope that explaining the news-gathering process will help bridge the trust gap. Our programs include a seminar on the challenge of science and environmental reporting in an era of disinformation, and a boot camp for journalists on covering the complexity of water issues in California.

Our newest program has a goal of diversifying Fresno-area news outlets, whose news staffs don’t adequately represent the communities they cover. The students of color journalism training program pays students $300 a month for five years to take journalism training between their senior year of high school and through four years of college. This five-year program has been praised nationally for its vision in diversifying newsrooms. Here is a Fresno Bee story on the program.

We encourage you to get involved in our programs, and make suggestions in areas that we can be a resource. We also would love you to help us to raise funds for our work. Contributions are tax deductible.

To contribute online, go to this link :https://securelb.imodules.com/s/1692/GID2/blank.aspx…

It is Fresno State’s secure, online donation form. This part is crucial to make sure your donation goes to the correct account. Enter the desired amount, then check “Other” and write in “Institute for Media and Public Trust” and follow the remaining instructions. Let us know if you have any issues in making the online form work.

To send a check, make it out to the Fresno State Foundation. In the memo line, designate the donation is for the Institute for Media and Public Trust. Mail checks to College of Arts & Humanities at Fresno State, Development Office, 2380 E. Keats Ave. M/S MB99, Fresno, CA 93740-8024.