SU journalism prof: New York Times credibility panel recommendations offer ‘some real promise’ in regaining readers’ trust
SU journalism prof: New York Times credibility panel recommendations offer ‘some real promise’ in regaining readers’ trustMay 12, 2005Jaime Winne Alvarez firstname.lastname@example.org
Charlotte Grimes, Knight Chair in Political Reporting and an expert on journalism and ethics in the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, says the recent announcement of recommendations from a New York Times panel on credibility, convened last fall to regain readers’ trust in the aftermath of the Jayson Blair scandal and questioning of The Times’ journalistic practices, are generally what one would expect: earnest, solid and thorough. She also feels that a few are even daring and creative, such as a blog for more reader feedback and sense of community between readers and the newspaper.
Says Grimes, “It’s hard to ever quibble or criticize a news organization for wanting to curtail errors, limit anonymous sources and sharpen the line between opinion and news. All of those cut to the heart of credibility and The Times’ recommendations offer some real promise in finally doing something about those continuing problems.”
However, she also adds that the “sad truth” is that many in the public simply don’t understand basic journalism conventions and protocols, and that journalists need to make the labeling of opinion, analysis and news as clear as possible.
“Journalists need to curb ‘attitude’ – that sometimes snide tone that creeps into stories, as writers and editors try too hard to imitate TV and appeal to younger readers who -we’re told- prefer that sort of distinctive voice. Too often the reporters are lured, seduced or driven into giving opinion, or can’t make clear enough distinctions between their professional expertise and their opinions. That’s damaging to credibility, no matter how it happens.”
One of the panel’s proposed recommendations struck Grimes as particularly problematic – the suggestion of posting interview transcripts. “This can be the equivalent of making public a reporter’s notes and that’s something journalists traditionally oppose. We sometimes are even willing to face jail time rather than do that.”
Grimes says whether any of the recommendations will actually improve credibility is questionable in today’s polarized society. While she believes its true that journalists need to do a better job of explaining what they do and how and why they do it, Grimes says the simple truth is that readers and audiences also come to the news with their own viewpoints.
“Too often, they expect the stories to validate those viewpoints and blame the news organization for ‘bias’ when the stories challenge those points of view. At least part of our job is to give the public new or different information to think about. Given that obligation, I’m afraid we may simply have to live with a certain amount of distrust and even dislike.”
Grimes worked as a journalist for 25 years before becoming a journalism educator. She was a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch for 20 years, 12 of them in its Washington bureau.