Last night at the Thomson Reuters building in Times Square, Jack Shafer of Slate.com moderated a panel for millennium journalism entitled “Audience and the Media: A Shaky Marriage.”
The speakers at the event each came from a mainstream news outlet, with differing ideas on how to keep credibility and objectivity in their field while maintaining their audiences’ interests.
Michael Oreskes, editor of The Associated Press, came out swinging. “We’re in an era of mistrust…[the mainstream media] have done a truly lousy job [explaining] why we mattered,” he said. “We got away with it for a long time until the Internet. Suddenly why we failed to explain who we were really mattered.”
Lisa Shepard, ombudsman of National Public Radio, shared a similar sentiment, “The public does depend on the media, and loves to kick us,” she said, explaining that news organizations have been “horrible at marketing themselves” as credible resources, even as they have become more transparent and willing to admit their mistakes.
“Lets be realistic,” Shepard told the crowd. “When you are putting out a 24-hour news product, you are going to have mistakes every day.”
But does admitting those mistakes and issuing corrections make a publication seem more credible, or less? Read on for more from last night’s panel.
The Washington Post‘s ombudsman Andrew Alexander said his position is becoming scarcer and scarcer in the last decade, where news organizations have less money to spend and Americans are trending towards outlets that already reflect their political beliefs. But he still has hope. “Internally, reporters have become better at addressing corrections coming their way,” he said. “People have a way of verifying what they read, and although credibility and legacy may have declined [in journalism] it’s not fallen off the table.”
Yet if transparency is one of the key issues facing traditional journalists today, what about The Washington Post‘s Raju Narisetti, who posted on his Twitter his personal (and somewhat snarky) feelings about pushing health care legislation, and who was taken to task for it? “Social media is social, that’s the point of it, and at The Post we want you to be social, but be very careful. Raju had not been writing in Washington very long,” and wasn’t aware a line had been crossed, Alexander said.
Dean Wright, Reuters‘ Global Ethics editor, took up that very issue later in the panel when speaking of journalists. “There can be no difference between public and private persona,” he said.
We left the panel with the sense that any journalist in the future who is able to be so completely transparent as to erase their personal ideologies completely (or at least manage to keep them off the Web) will be pretty hard to come by. But best of luck to those who want to try to do it.