NPR’s Oreskes says localism, independence crucial to future of journalism

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WASHINGTON — In a time of deep divisions and widespread mistrust of media and government, journalists must focus on building trust from the ground up and being independent mediators of facts.

That was the central point Michael Oreskes, senior v.p. of news and editorial director at NPR, made during a public talk Tuesday at the Newseum. Oreskes was responding to a wide-ranging presentation by Richard Gingras, Google News v.p., in a discussion titled “Considering the Future of Journalism.” Jeffrey Herbst, c.e.o. of the Newseum and Newseum Institute, moderated.


Michael Oreskes, Jeffrey Herbst and Richard Gingras share the stage for a Newseum panel, “Considering the Future of Journalism.” (Photo: Newseum)

Localism and independence are crucial for rebuilding trust and serious connections with the audience, Oreskes argued, pointing to examples from public radio. He’s similarly argued recently for regaining the public’s trust by reaffirming basic values. In an All Things Considered appearance, he outlined three principles of journalism: facts, independence and civility.

NPR strongly believes in the “power of public radio to bring people together” and to “rebuild trust one community at a time,” Oreskes said on ATC. “The country clearly needs that.”

In Tuesday’s conversation, Oreskes took a step back to outline democracy and the role of journalism.

Effective journalism and a free flow of independent information enable an effective democracy, which is fundamentally a system for resolving differences without the intervention of a higher authority. Like marriage, it requires constant attention, Oreskes said.

But the quality of American democracy has steadily eroded, and the problem isn’t confined just to this election or the arrival of the internet, Oreskes said. It’s persisted for decades, and the nation is struggling with a deeper problem: a breakdown of the consensus around what our democracy means to us, Oreskes said.

“The erosion of that belief, of that faith, of that trust is at the root of everything we’re dealing with,” Oreskes said.

Journalism’s central role is the ability to present facts so the public can make informed decisions, but it is based on the same set of trusts, Oreskes said. “Increasingly people are picking the journalism they want, and not the journalism that challenges them to think more fully about what’s going on,” Oreskes said.

Oreskes also emphasized the importance of verifying information, pointing out that NPR’s most successful digital content in its history was its real-time fact-checking of the presidential debates and a post-election presentation of Trump’s 100-day plan with a fact-check overlaid.

The composition of the Newseum panel prompted some criticism on social media, both before and during the event. Some used the hashtag “#manel” to underscore the panel’s lack of women.

After the event, some attendees walked out to face a protest.