Who Can You Trust in the New World of News? Start With Yourself

Journalism is a public trust – the journalists trust the public to believe what they write and say, and the public trusts the journalists to report the unvarnished truth.

But trust, like journalism itself, is subjective. Some people trust Fox News, some trust National Public Radio, and still others consider A Current Affair to be Murrow-esque. Trust is about perception, not truth, and the only way to discern the best semblance of reality is to absorb as many truths as possible.

Consider Judith Miller, who is to jingoistic warmongering what Geraldo is to egocentric hyperbole. In other words, nobody does “the sky is falling” journalism better than Judy.

Miller did hard time because she refused to reveal her source in the Valerie Plame CIA scandal – because she trusted her source and his information (as of this writing, it is being reported that Miller’s source was Vice President Dick Cheney’s Chief of Staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby – I assume if Scooter gets the ax he will be replaced by longtime friend and comic James “Fozzie Bear” Mitchell.)

Miller’s trust landed her in jail; our trust of Miller’s erroneous reporting contributed to the ill-fated rush to war in Iraq. Trust is nothing if not fickle.

Then there is the other kind of trust, not of the message so much as the messenger. Stephen Baker, who with Heather Green writes the must-read Blogspotting blog, said in a recent post about whether we can trust reporting from “bloggers” that citizens’ reporting is “additive.” He went on to say, “We hear news all the time from friends and colleagues about our towns, our schools, our bosses. We weigh the information based on the reliability of our sources. Some are utterly trustworthy, most quite a bit less. With bloggers, our circle of contacts grows exponentially, and we have to sort out what to believe.”

I agree on the last point, only I would add that the same goes for anyone who calls himself or herself a reporter, whether that person is a so-called “blogger” or Judith Miller of the New York Times. For every Jeff Gannon there is a Jayson Blair, for every Wonkette there is a Larry King.

And for every Ben Bradlee (former executive editor of the Washington Post) there is – or soon will be – a Bob Dunn, editor of the new citizen journalism publication Fort Bend Now (thanks to John Wagner of Wagner Communications for the information.)

FBN is much like other citizen journalism sites, with hyper-local stories covered by community contributors and lots of opportunity to interact with as well as read the news – a veritable commune for common minds. In his video manifesto, Dunn rails against corporate ownership of media and the lack of local news coverage. “There is one thing worse than media bias,” he said, “and that’s media absence.”

Dunn goes further by both acknowledging his enterprise’s shortcomings and promising to pursue accuracy, truth and trust.

“We know there’s more than one side to every story,” Dunn wrote on the home page. “Sometimes there are several. Please help make FortBendNow as accurate as possible.”

Dunn added that an editor will “quickly review” comments about accuracy and post them on the site. Dunn’s goal is to make corrections “in minutes, not in days.”

So who should you trust, a “blogger” journalist like Bob Dunn, or a “professional” reporter like Judith Miller? I say read them both – but in the end, all you can do is trust yourself.

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One Response to Who Can You Trust in the New World of News? Start With Yourself

  1. Bob Dunn says:

    I appreciate your mentioning FortBendNow. Thanks very much.
    Not to put too fine a point on it, but I wanted to note that I’m a professional journalist, too. I was a newspaper editor and reporter for 20 years, and then helped create and run news and information sites for Cox Interactive Media in Phoenix and Time Warner in Houston prior to starting my own database applications company a few years ago.
    FortBendNow is definitely not a blog or group of blogs such as The Huffington Post or Dan Gilmor’s Bayosphere, but it does operate on a variation of the citizen journalist model. All stories are edited by people with journalism backgrounds, some are written by people with no journalism degree.
    Although in its infancy and not yet fully staffed, FortBendNow already is a competitive news publication, and not meant to serve as supplemental reading. For instance, our story on the Travis County district attorney’s reasoning in returning back-to-back indictments against U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay (our local congressman) beat the Houston Chronicle and the Washington Post by half a day.
    The attention to accuracy is in my mind mostly a matter of good intent and proper application of technology. Like a blog, readers may comment immediately upon reading a story. Comments are moderated, but as long as they aren’t libelous or too obscenity laden for our younger readers, they’ll quickly appear on the site.
    In addition, we offer those quoted in news stories the ability to add their own critique of the story in space immediately adjacent to it. That critique, however, is also subject to reader (or reporter) comments.
    The idea is to make corrections almost immediately and in space equal in prominance to the original story, and also to allow the public to advance that story.
    Hey, sorry to be so long-winded. Again, thanks for the mention.
    Best regards,
    Bob Dunn

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