The ironies seem inescapable.
As people all over the planet today (May 3) acknowledge World Press Freedom Day:
- it takes a brutal invasion of Ukraine to bolster awareness that journalists die every year to do their jobs. In just a few short months of fighting in Ukraine, more than one dozen media members have died. Globally, 65 journalists are missing, nearly 300 are in prison and 16 have died this year, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. While figures vary, the concept that journalism is unsafe in parts of the world is not in doubt.
- the wake of Vladimir Putin’s March 4 law, making it illegal for media to report ‘false’ information about Russia’s military, remains fresh. Just when independent coverage of Russia is needed, a slew of western media has exited Moscow, fearing the measure’s 15-year sentence. Moreover, Russia’s press freedoms have pulled even with those of the un-transparent U.S. Supreme Court, which, for instance, still prohibits cameras.
And perhaps two of the biggest ironies on World Press Freedom Day:
- a story leaked Monday night (May 2) and made headlines today (May 3) about the court’s pending action on Roe v. Wade. In addition to being a bombshell story about the end of a woman's right to choose, the rare Supreme Court leak is a prime example of press freedom. Can you imagine reporters in some other parts of the world leaking a major court document and facing no retribution?
- Well, almost none. "Daily Beast" reports "Politico," whose reporters Josh Gerstein and Alexander Ward unearthed the Roe scoop, instituted enhanced security at its offices in the story's wake. Politico insists the beefed-up forces are not a response to specific threats, though. Still, it's a sobering irony on World Press Freedom Day.
- Again on World Press Freedom Day and following from the above, U.S. chief justice John Roberts—whose job is to uphold the Constitution, including the First Amendment, perhaps the world’s most expansive guarantee of a free press—said he'll open an investigation into how the Roe news escaped.
- Indeed, another bit of irony on World Press Freedom Day was that the the chief justice did something highly unusual. He–wait for it–issued a press release. In it, Roberts said the Roe draft opinion Politico obtained was "authentic," but does not "represent a decision by the Court or the final position of any member on the issues in the case." Moreover, Roberts called the leak "a singular and egregious breach of...trust that is an affront to the Court and the community of public servants who work here."
- And last, but not least, Amazon, not known as a media-friendly group, in a Bospar-like move, said it will pay employees who travel for abortions.
Regaining Public Trust
Understanding the symbiotic relationship between PR pros and media members, we thought it fitting today to address the public’s ebbing trust in media. We asked PR pros who work in the media sector, some of whom were reporters previously, as well as current journalists for suggestions. Here’s a sample of what they said:
Katina Arnold, VP, corporate communication, ESPN: One area that will lead to increasing public trust in media is making sure newsrooms are more diverse. Organizations should continue to adopt hiring and retention strategies that will increase diversity across many different dimensions to reflect the diverse communities they serve.
Howard Mortman, communication chief, C-SPAN: Media is best at providing raw information that educates the public, but doesn't stray too far beyond that. Don't tell the public what opinions it should have. It's simple: Give people more of an opportunity to think for themselves.
Kristine Coratti Kelly, CCO, The Washington Post: The need for fact-based news has never felt so urgent. Since 2019, The Washington Post’s Press Freedom Partnership program has shed light on journalists who have been targeted for bringing the truth to people around the world. We want people to better understand the work that journalists do, how dangerous it can be to report facts and how important their work is for democracy here and around the world.
Accuracy Is Key
Brett Larson, SVP, red & blue media strategies, Bospar: Building trust with your audience is like building trust in personal relationships—it takes time, honesty and it can’t be taken for granted. Given the abundance of information, the public has lots of opportunity to corroborate facts, which means just as many chances to destroy trust if something reported is proven false.
When I handled breaking news [as an on-air reporter], I always alerted the audience. You say things like "what we know now from reports" and "some of this may change as we learn more."
Despite the rush to be first, media organizations can’t overlook reporting accuracy. At the same time, it’s also important to distinguish opinion from fact and clearly label opinion as such.
You can say you think one restaurant is better than another, in your opinion. Yet prices on the menu are facts. People appreciate straight talk. It’s just like when there is clear bias in a story–that’s fine. But don’t treat it as though it is neutral.
Gilbert Klein, president, National Press Club Journalism Institute: We promote trust in media by working with journalists and the public to help them understand what makes information credible. Our training equips journalists with skills to inform the public inclusively.
Our programs and daily newsletter reach thousands of people across the country and around the world. They give the public a window into journalistic standards. In addition, they bolster the news media’s essential role in a representative democracy.
Just the Facts
Sara Kehaulani Goo, editor-in-chief, Axios: Nothing matters more than winning the war for truth. Axios has pledged to always put its audience first. It does so by covering topics of greatest consequence with clinical, critical and balanced eyes.
We took this commitment one step further when we introduced our organizational manifesto and Axios Bill of Rights. These outlined steps we are taking to help restore trust in fact-based news. And now we're scaling up our effort to grow local journalism in cities across the country.
Davide Savenije, editor-in-chief, Industry Dive: We have high journalistic standards and are very transparent about our reporting processes and coverage priorities. We’ve published our ethics code externally and share relevant snippets with our audience, sources or other stakeholders when needed. We work hard to avoid errors, but when mistakes happen, we always own up to them. It hurts to write a highly visible correction, but we know this builds trust with our readers. We always receive feedback thanking us and get more positive reactions than anything when we do that.