Trust and the media, they don’t always seem to go together. As the CEO of Google, Eric Schmidt, once said in an interview: “The biggest challenge facing the Internet today is reliability. There’s too much information out there that is either fraudulent or irresponsible, and how do you shift through all of that? Isn’t that the problem? You need professionals to do that”.
For the last few weeks I already wrote a lot about how you can be misled by stories or visualizations on the internet and why it is important to be critical. I have mentioned a lot that it is important to share reliable news and look for reliable sources and information. I also already briefly mentioned why it is important. Today I will dedicate this whole article to the reliability of news (organizations), since it is such an important topic.
Why is it important to share reliable information?
It is important to share reliable information, because a lot can go wrong if you don’t. Take for example the story about how to cure Ebola that was going around on social media. This story started with a text by a Nigerian student that said that everyone should bath with hot water and salt before daybreak and drink as much salt water as possible to protect themselves from the deathly Ebola virus. This hoax that presumably started as a joke resulted in two deaths and at least twenty hospitalized people. What this hoax shows is that it can be dangerous to believe everything you read on the internet. It doesn’t matter how much you want to believe the story or how plausible it sounds, you need to remain critical and really ask yourself if the story is reliable.
Another example is the ‘evil’ Ukrainain militiaman who allegedly took a teddy bear from the remains of the Malaysia airplane crash, MH17, as a trophy. He also allegedly told the reports on the scene to get lost and that there was a war going on there. This story was reported and shared by many newspapers and on social media. However, it turns out that the militiaman didn’t take the teddy bear as a trophy. He was showing his tribute to the dead. He also said: “We want those bastards to see whom they shot down. Do you see?” by which he meant that there were innocent children who died in the crash. This story illustrates that you need to be careful about sharing a story and how a picture can be taken out of context. Don’t think a story is reliable because it fits with your point of view.
What should be done to create trust?
Now, how can you create trust or make sure that you share reliable news? There are a few things you can do yourself as a journalist and there are few things that might have to change in journalism in general.
What should be done in general?
What needs to change in general according to an article by Richard Gingras, head of Google News, and Sally Lehrman, fellow at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics who specializes in journalism are the following things:
– Posting a mission statement and ethics policy. Stating their objectives, capabilities and standards could help both news organizations and journalists build trust.
– More disclosure about the process. Creating a clear label or creating a list of all participants in the process, such as fact-checkers, editors and lawyers, could help as well.
– Citations (through links) and corrections. If an article literally states what has been said, audiences can asses the effort and accuracy of what is reported.
Briefly put Gingras and Lehrman argue for more transparency about the why journalism works and the process behind a story.
What can you yourself already do?
What you as a journalist can already do yourself, is paying attention to the following things and to be critical about them.
– Information. Be aware that some facts might have been misinterpreted or that not all facts are included.
– Sources. Look carefully at your sources and look for the original sources. Think about whether they are reliable.
– Wordings. Also be critical to they way a story is portrayed. The article you are looking at could be framed.
– Visualizations. Make sure you have good and reliable visualizations.
To summarize, it is important that you write reliable articles and that you look for reliable sources. By being reliable you earn your audience’s trust and present yourself as a credible writer (or organization). Trust and the media, like I said, don’t always go together. But there are some ways to create trust. The lesson for this week is: Don’t trust a medium simply because everyone else does, but trust it because you have valid reasons to do so. So it shouldn’t be ‘trust me, everyone else does’, but aim for ‘trust me, I’m reliable’.