If you’re reading a community newspaper, chances are you are reading what seems to be a dying story format: an unbiased account of the news.
A president who has been overly critical of journalism has driven newspeople on the national level to disregard time-honored canons of objectivity. In years past, we would have reported what a president said or did, and what others said about him. Now many think they have to put a label on the newsmaker – calling the president a racist instead of just reporting his words and actions and letting the reader decide whether that represented racism.
But what about readers? Does it matter to them?
Surveys say it does:
- A recent Knight Foundation study reported that 66 percent of Americans said most news media do not do a good job of separating fact from opinion. Back in 1984, 42 percent held that view.
- On a media trust scale with scores ranging from a low of zero to a high of 100, the average American scores a 37.
- Unfortunately, media trust has itself become a partisan issue, with Democrats largely trusting the media and Republicans distrusting the media.
The recent flurry of news mergers and buyouts also concerns the public. More than 9 in 10 Americans in a Gallup survey are very (68 percent) or somewhat (26 percent) concerned that corporate views would influence coverage if a large company purchased their local news organization.
When you talk with readers about these issues, remember that they don’t see the media landscape like we journalists do. They look at newspapers, TV news, online news and other outlets and just see journalism. We see hard news, news analysis, news advocacy, infotainment and lots more.
So tell your readers that you’re committed to presenting the news fairly and objectively – to airing all important sides of stories. And that no matter what they may see on MSNBC or Fox or some national newspaper or news show, your newspaper is committed to the best traditions of objectivity, neutrality and fairness.
An old definition of public relations is “doing right and telling people about it.” At community newspapers, we’re committed to doing right. But we need to be more about the business of telling people about it.