From the Newsroom: How to Trust the News Media

Did you see that story this week that says a new poll shows half of Americans believe national news organizations are intentionally misleading or misinforming the public?

The poll and subsequent report were conducted by Gallup and the Knight Foundation, a nonprofit organization that studies the news media and its problems.

“Americans don’t seem to think that national news organizations care about the overall impact of their reporting on society,” said John Sands, Knight’s senior director for media and democracy, in an Associated Press report on the poll.

The public has been a little softer on local news outlets like The Columbian, saying they trust us more than the national media. I’m not surprised, as you know us much better. Knowledge creates trust.

Well, I’ve never worked at a national news organization – like the Wall Street Journal, CNN or ABC News. But I had friends and colleagues who were employed by the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the AP. They are good people and good journalists and I have great confidence that they and their editorial teams are doing their best to bring the news to their audiences.

But instead of getting defensive, I wanted to write about how suspiciously news consumers like me can scrutinize an information source to decide if it can be trusted.

How did I come up with the story? We know that most people these days check their news online. If you search online, you’re most likely leaving “cookies,” and partisans can use the crumbs to find an audience for whatever they’re trying to promote. In other words, beware of online “news” you find. Is it from a source I know? We all know the big names in media: The Associated Press, CBS News, etc. These mainstream sources have editorial, fact-checking, and ethics policies. You have reputation and history. Beware of sources you don’t know, especially on social media. Watch closely for “pink slime” websites, which sound like the name of a news organization but are actually propaganda sites run by who-knows-for-who-knows-what reasons. (I am aware of at least two such websites that target Vancouver.) Are the sources clearly identified? Names and sources of information should be uniquely identified and easily verifiable with an online search. If the story is online, are the source materials linked? Online stories should contain links to source materials. For example, I included a link to the Gallup-Knight Foundation report in the first paragraph of this story. Is it consistent with other media coverage? Sometimes a news organization can get a scoop, but in these days of information overload, a story that bucks the trend deserves close scrutiny. When the mainstream media reports that the United States shot down a Chinese spy balloon but is fed you a story claiming it’s a UFO, I think you should stick to the mainstream source. If the story seems biased, why am I thinking that? This one is a bit more difficult as you have to consider your own implied bias. Here’s an example: I occasionally get calls or emails about stories that the reader thinks are “bright” or too “politically correct.” Granted, 10 or 20 years ago you wouldn’t have seen these stories. But today, diversity and inclusion efforts are everywhere: on the lips of public officials and civic leaders, on the agenda of public meetings, and on the curriculum of public schools. I personally think that’s a good thing. Even if you don’t, it is our duty to report what is going on.

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There is a lot of news and information. It is difficult to determine what is trustworthy. But rather than making a blanket judgment, I’d say consider the source instead.