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Building trust with you: Why WITF is committed to the Trusting News project

Written by Tim Lambert, WITF Multimedia News Director | Nov 30, 2017 6:14 PM
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StateImpact Pennsylvania's Marie Cusick (Photo by Joe Ulrich/WITF)

(Undated) -- In light of the Washington Post's reporting on Project Veritas' failed effort to spread false stories this week, now is a good time to talk about WITF's involvement in the Trusting News project. 

I learned that some social media users were surprised by how thoroughly a Post reporter handled an interview with Jaime Phillips, who was intent on providing misleading information. As a news director, I was troubled by the reaction because it shows how little some people understand about how we go about our jobs. That is partly journalists' fault. We don't always do a good job of explaining our "process" -- like how we decide which stories to pursue and sources to contact, and how we aim for balance in reporting the facts.  

With information overwhelming social media users, it's important for media organizations to ensure their listeners/viewers/readers can trust their reporting. After all, how many people have actually met a journalist? When WITF was asked to take part in an effort to create strategies designed to demonstrate the credibility and trustworthiness of journalism, we jumped at the chance. For the next four months, we'll be taking steps to explain to you our editorial process, demonstrate our approach to ensure our stories are balanced, be as accessible and responsive as possible, describe our ethics and funding and show how we are distinct from other media organizations.

We'll be tracking our progress and your responses and sharing them with other participating stations and the Trusting News team. The days of journalism's one-way street of simply producing stories for the public have long been over.  Now, it's time to find better ways to interact with you and ensure we meet your high standards of what a credible media organization should be.

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Keystone Crossroads Emily Previti talks with a listener at a News and Brews event in York. (Photo by Ian Sterling)

Earlier this week, I took part in a panel discussion in York -- News, Views, and Nonsense -- to discuss the role of the media in the political process, how newsroom decisions are made, and how to be a critical media consumer. It was an opportunity to be in the community in front of an engaged crowd and have a conversation about what we do.  Were some of the questions critical? Yep, and that's okay. Accountability is important. We work to speak truth to power every day, and our work should be held accountable for its accuracy and fairness. 

We are in the Wild, Wild West of the information age. Media organizations are working to adjust to the digital environment, where information travels instantaneously (sometimes from partisan sources that often don't verify the facts and slant their "hot takes") and the changing marketplace where ad revenues and subscriptions have dropped. In public media, we rely on contributions from donors, financial support from foundations and the business community and funding from the state and federal governments.

In 2015, the American Society of News Editors found its first double-digit decline in newsroom count since the great Recession of seven years ago. Newsroom jobs dropped 10.4 percent. When you think of it, your daily life is affected by the actions of your school boards, borough council, county commissioners, state government, federal government. They set policies, tax rates, regulations, etc. Journalists break that information down, so you don't have to -- things like reading proposed laws, understanding Sunshine laws -- and put them into context. At WITF, we don't have the resources to cover everything that happens in our 17-county area. So, we focus on stories that explain how policy decisions impact you. We do it through content verticals covering the state's energy economy, the changing face of health care, trends affecting cities and municipalities and coverage of the state Capitol.

The work of journalists is under intense scrutiny nationwide, more so than in any other time in my nearly 25 years in the business. Some on both sides of the political spectrum want journalists to re-enforce their existing views. Alternative media sites have popped up with partisan takes (such InfoWars, Breitbart, Occupy Democrats and Natural News). The rise of 24-hour news channels creates an echo chamber that distorts the facts of a well-reported story. In the past year, journalists have been physically attacked or arrested for simply asking a question

Through it all, we continue to do our jobs to the best of our abilities and through the Trusted News project, we hope to continue to be your source for All Things Regional that we work to provide each and every day. 

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WITF's Multimedia News Director Tim Lambert (Photo by Joe Ulrich/WITF).

*If you ever have any comments, questions or concerns about a story you hear on WITF, you can reach me on Facebook, through email (tim_lambert@witf.org) or at my desk (717-910-2907).

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