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Accuracy critical for journalists to regain standing

Do you believe everything you read?

Public confidence in the Mass Media since 1997

Public confidence in the media since 1997

Public trust in the media has steadily fallen over the last decade.  A recent Gallup poll showed that public trust in the media is slightly up in 2013 from last year’s all-time low, but still at a dismal 44 percent.  Not even half of Americans believe what they are reading.

Part of that has to do with the negative connotation associated with journalists.  When people think of the media, they often think of sites with strong biases like Fox and MSNBC.  I tell people that I want to be a journalist and they tell me how annoying they think journalists are.  A recent controversial opinion article in the Daily Nebraskan filled my Facebook and Twitter feeds with numerous “This is why I hate the DN!” updates.

When I thought of becoming a journalist I thought of changing the way people thought.  I wanted to expose problems and get people to care about a particular topic. I wanted to provoke  change.  I thought journalists were supposed to be respected for their knowledge.  But as recent polls show, most Americans don’t believe journalists have that wealth of knowledge.

Technology has provided a variety of resources for fact-checking and accuracy.  When you type something into a Google search, numerous results convey all sorts of opinions.  Data that previously took hours to scour  is conveniently posted on a single website.

All of these things should allow reporters and editors to be absolutely precise and represent both sides of a story fully.  But it’s almost become a joke how inaccurate some news sites are.  A satirical article by The Onion mocked a student reporter’s success at getting right an astounding five whole sentences.  Even a prominent paper like The New York Times has a significant number of corrections in each day’s paper.  Some news organizations fail to correct all of their mistakes.

If a reader sees an error in a newspaper’s story, he or she will be less likely to trust anything else from that newspaper.  Even a tiny error can make a reader think twice about whether he or she believes a controversial story is true.

Reporters and editors have the technology and resources to put together amazing news stories, and many of them do.  But as newsroom cuts and 24-hour deadlines loom, some inaccuracies slip through the cracks.  Most of the work journalists publish is fair and accurate.  But it’s hard for the public to remember that when they notice a glaring error.

For the media to regain the public’s trust, it’s all about going back to that Journalism 101 class.  Journalists and editors have learned from the beginning how to double-check all of their facts and put their biases aside when writing an article.  NPR’s ethics handbook gives a checklist for its reporters and editors when they are working on a story to accomplish their ultimate purpose of “pursuing the truth.”

Journalists can only establish accuracy when they can begin to tell the full story.

_ Angela Hensel

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