7 thoughts on “Responsibility for building trust in local stations starts at the top

  1. NPR and public radio appear to be biased because they are biased. Asking general managers and program directors to be much more careful about publicly sharing opinions on politics and controversial issues isn’t going to change that.

  2. Except that in the Trump era, to engage with and craft stories using actual facts is to take a partisan position. To be committed to the norms, practices, and ideals of democratic society is to take a partisan position.

    In other words, what is our goal? If it’s just to deliver “unbiased” news (whatever that actually means), then by all means keep up with the current model. But if it’s to serve as a democracy-strengthening institution, we need to rethink what integrity and ethics actually mean in an era where preserving our democracy itself is not to be taken for granted.

  3. I appreciate Michael raising this at this time. But the issue is much more nuanced than simply keeping one’s “partisanship” and “personal politics” under a cone of silence. And it depends on how those terms are defined, doesn’t it? As journalists we are supposed to discover and report verifiable facts, and to hold those in power accountable for their words and actions. Statements by political figures that are demonstrably false need to be reported as false. To some, this kind of reporting is “biased.” Similarly, some label as “partisan” a recognition that a vast preponderance of scientific research, backed by both credible theory and observational evidence, demonstrates that the earth’s climate is changing rapidly in ways that will impact the global economy and billions of people. If a critic insists there is still a climate change “debate,” it doesn’t negate the science showing that climate change is happening. Are we unable as journalists to make that call? Or maybe there’s still a “gravity debate” and we dare not commit to an actual judgment of fact?

    I remember being admonished to not celebrate the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v Hodges that the right to marriage equality is constitutionally protected. I remained silent then about my own views despite relationships with LGBTQ friends and members of my own family. It felt at the time as if I had remained silent about racial integration of public schools, or the right of women to vote. Are those issues also “partisan?”

    There’s no escaping that as public media professionals we stand for certain core values. Among them are human decency, fair play, and truth. We are supposed to be watchdogs for democracy and reason. Or, if we are afraid that standing up for these values will offend powerful people, major donors, etc., we can fall back on just reporting on the arguments of people in power. You can bet they would love that.

    • “As journalists we are supposed to discover and report verifiable facts”

      Maybe NPR can take it upon themselves to discover exactly how many votes are cast illegally in U.S. elections each election cycle, instead of telling us claims of ‘millions of illegally cast votes’ are “without evidence.” Okay, if it isn’t millions, what is it NPR? My guess is NPR has no interest in trying to discover what the actual number is. It’s easier to trot out the “no evidence” line.

  4. “Good ethicists know that even an appearance of bias in journalism can have a negative impact on the credibility and impact of your work.”

    Good reporters…and good news directors…know this is utter nonsense. This is the infamous “view from nowhere” garbage that Jay Rosen (correctly) excoriates on a regular basis. The way you combat bias is to give your audience a reason to trust you. You don’t do that by standing for nothing, you do that by standing FOR something. Specifically, taking the position that you’re there for the betterment of your local community.

  5. As Louie XIV said, “L’Etat, c’est moi.” I’m the GM and public face of my station whether I’m at the grocery store, posting on FB, or testifying before the Legislature. Everything I say, every action I take, in every aspect of my public life contributes to the success or failure of my station.

    At one extreme, this could force me to say or do nothing in fear of harming my station. However, in practical terms, it means I try to think about how my public actions impact my organization, preferably before I act. That moment of pause is the price senior managers pay for being senior managers.

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