The Trust Crisis

March 23, 2017

by Roger Pynn

When I first read this article about research conducted by the American Press Institute and the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, I wanted someone to slap me awake.  “Could this really require research?” I asked.

The study concludes that Americans who find “news” online, it is not the organization that creates the news, but who shares it via social media that determines how much they trust the information.  In other words, if your beloved Aunt Jane (the one the family calls “Saint Jane”) shares an article on Facebook, you are far more likely to believe it because she shared it than whether it came from a highly recognized news organization like, for instance, the Associated Press.

As I read the story a second time, my attitude changed to “isn’t it a darned shame that news outlets lost sight of the basics of human trust?”

I’m like everyone else … concerned over the unraveling of American news media (I’ll not worry about media in Russia).  It goes way beyond the shrinking number of classically trained journalists, the shuttering of some fine papers and magazines, and certainly, the striking lack of editing or adherence to basic principles that used to restrict opinion creep.  I’m worried about the apparent inability of most people to recognize the difference between news and commentary – and that includes a lot of people who claim to be journalists.

This single comment left me reeling:

“All of this suggests that a news organization’s credibility both as a brand and for individual stories is significantly affected by what kinds of people are sharing it on social media sites such as Facebook. The sharers act as unofficial ambassadors for the brand, and the sharers’ credibility can influence readers’ opinions about the reporting source.”

Of course!  For Pete’s sake, are you going to accept something your most trusted friend tells you?  Even if it is published by some outlet you’ve never heard of?  You’ve probably never heard of the American Press Institute before, but if you’re reading our blog it is most likely because we have a relationship and you’re therefore likely to believe I wouldn’t share something with you if it was not reliable information.

All this boils down to the colossal failure of media organizations to earn trust.  It isn’t just because the President of the United States is cutting them up like paper dolls.  He’s simply capitalizing on their failure to create a relationship.  Facebook gets you to like someone.  Do you ever wonder whether your newspaper cares if you like them?

Down Comes “the Wall”

March 2, 2016

by Roger Pynn

There has always been an invisible wall between newsrooms and the business office of newspapers – until today.  Tribune Publishing has done away with “the wall,” promoting editors of its newspaper properties (that include the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, Orlando Sentinel, South Florida Sun-Sentinel and seven others) and making them responsible for the business side as editors and publishers.

This will put some fine journalists to the test as the work to balance the commercial interests of publishing with the sanctity of the journalistic process.  In the past, journalists were generally free from worry about having the heavy hammer of the publisher coming down on them as they worked for – as Clark Kent would say “truth, justice and the American way.”

Increasingly today the world of journalism is blurred as media companies struggle to stay alive in the always-on, user-driven world of communication that has left countless business models on a junk heap of failed digital experiments.

I’ve written often about the demise of the business where I started and lamented the prospect of a world without daily local newspapers.  Perhaps having put journalists in charge isn’t such a bad idea … if these newly crowned publishers can just remember that the product is news … true, balanced, unfettered journalism.

The Space Between the Ads

March 13, 2015

by Roger Pynn

We often tell clients that a modern definition of news could easily be “the stuff that fills the space between the ads” as media are more and more limited in the space they have to devote to news.  I’m growing accustomed to bottom banner ads on section fronts of our newspapers even though my first and perhaps most revered journalism professor told us “it will be a cold day in hell when you see an ad on Page One.”

But now comes CNN to prove our point.  As if those scrolling news updates weren’t annoying enough, Variety reports that the home of Wolf Blitzer and other around-the-clock newsies may be toying with ways of inserting advertiser logos in the bottom-of-the-screen scrolls.

Next up:  intravenous advertising.

Brian Williams: #Trending or #Toast?

February 11, 2015

by Roger Pynn

Brian Williams is damaged goods and as much as I am a believer in forgiveness and second chances, as a business person I can’t imagine him coming back from six months of unpaid leave.  This morning’s mumblings on CNN even included a suggestion that Williams would be the ideal replacement for Jon Stewart on The Daily Show, the “New Day” team laughing about the irony of a real journalist trending for fake journalism and a fake journalist trending for retiring.

There’s a difference between the penalty box in a hockey match and the punishment Williams has been given.  He wasn’t sentenced for a one-time mistake.  He was put on ice for the most fundamental error in his craft.  If you are interested in news, you want the reporting to be honest (and, by the way, there’s only 100 percent when it comes to honesty).

All journalists bear a special responsibility to earn trust.  They operate with special constitutional protection and their audience should expect no less than a total commitment to earning and keeping their trust.

Ask yourself, “Will I ever be 100 percent sure that I can trust what he’s telling me?”

Those Were the Days

November 5, 2014

by Roger Pynn

When word flashed up on that the dean of Orlando broadcast news had died, it was one of those “oh … no” moments.  Ben Aycrigg should be a role model for anyone who seeks entrance to your living room at 6 and 11 p.m.

He was kind to everyone he met.  He was truly interested in listening to people.  And it paid off because people wanted to give him their news … and they trusted him to treat it with respect.

ben aycriggwalter-01

It came as no surprise that when Googling for an image of Ben, the results included one of Walter Cronkite.  They were easily mistaken for each other, not by looks but because they were such quality journalists.

Tape of Ben’s newscasts would make a great prerequisite for a degree in broadcast journalism … or journalism for any medium, for that matter.

The Times They Are A-Changin’

January 31, 2014

rpynn by Roger Pynn

Bob Dylan’s timeless folk song told us that the only constant is change and for many of my generation it was an anthem as young people began to question social and political values.  So I thought of that last weekend when at a Florida Public Relations Association Counselors Network Winter Symposium.  I learned that journalism is officially no longer what I was taught in college.

I’ve suspected as much due to the endless use of the words “I think” by television newscasters who are all too ready to offer their opinion (something my journalism professor Jeddy LeVar would have flunked me for).  There has been any number of signs that my old trade was disappearing, not the least of which is that many a journalism program is adapting to new media instead of teaching those who work in new media fields to adhere to the basic tenets of the profession.

But when Poynter Institute faculty member Kelly McBride, herself a former ombudsman for a major news organization, presented her definition of journalism, I thought about waving the white flag.  Said McBride, author of the book The New Ethics of Journalism, “Journalism is information that helps individuals connect with their communities and uphold their civic duties.”

I’d always thought of it as something like the Merriam-Webster’s description:  “The collection and editing of news for presentation through the media.”

But then again, McBride told me the problem with my concerns about the state of the fourth estate is a simple result of the aging process.  “You’re old,” she responded when I complained that too many journos aren’t trained as I was.

Yes.  I’m old.  Yet, all due respect to Ms. McBride, but I don’t think that’s what Dylan was saying.  What the person with an iPhone and a blog is doing only qualifies as journalism if they adhere to the basic concepts of factual reporting sans opinion.

Journalism Without Critical Thinking

October 20, 2011

by Kerry Martin

Forget Casey Anthony.  Personally I’ll be happy when the case of Anthropologists v. Scott is finally over in the court of public opinion.

While every liberal arts professor in higher education is picking up their pitchforks (or rather, writing in their letters to the editor), the news media is giving each and every one a platform to do so in the pages of their papers.  I’m not saying I agree or disagree with any one side (I believe the arguments of both), but I do think it’s getting plenty of attention.  Worst of all, when every known argument has already been made, it starts to get to the point that even weak theories and arguments are getting press.

Take for example this column from today’s Miami Herald about the case for poetry as an economic engine.  It piqued my curiosity as I wondered how this writer could back up the claim that this field would drive our economy.  Sadly, he couldn’t.  Or, at least, not without creating major flaws in his argument.

The crux of his reasoning is that poetry majors write so much and print out so many pages of paper that they are driving the paper industry (and the industries that produce printer toner, pencils, legal pads, etc.).

Really?  Office Depot owes its whole business profit to poetry majors?  Where is the logical thinking that these students could be consuming these and other products even if they weren’t poetry majors?

Would science majors buy lab supplies like beakers, safety goggles, and chemistry sets?  Would film majors buy DVDs, software licenses and other technology?  Would any other major still print out term papers, essays, notes, etc??

It’s great to support the grounds that citizens need a well-rounded education, but doing so in a way that lacks critical thinking doesn’t help.  Maybe journalism majors aren’t getting as well-rounded an education as we thought.

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