The U.S. media has lost the trust of many of the readers, viewers and listeners it seeks to inform, and the primary way to restore it is to promote truth and accuracy through community engagement, Knight Foundation president Alberto Ibarguen said Monday at the 10th annual “Media Learning Seminar” in downtown Miami.
“We are living and breathing a growing concern about misinformation,” Ibarguen said. “It would be naïve not to acknowledge that not a week goes by without a discussion of whether facts matter, who controls access to truth and how does my truth differ from yours. The information landscape we live in has consequences for society and they have become acute.”
Skepticism about whether the media is delivering news or delivering a biased message increased during the months leading up to the presidential election and in the three weeks since Donald Trump was inaugurated, he said.
“Trust has evaporated — trust in institutions and in each other. The level of trust and goodwill seems to be slipping through our fingers,” said Ibarguen, former publisher of The Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald.
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Ibarguen announced the creation or expansion of a number of Knight Foundation projects with the goal of reconnecting at the grassroots level with communities, especially when the digital age has erected barriers to honest conversation and common sense reporting.
“What we know or think we know is increasingly controlled by algorithms,” he said. “We want to empower people with the greatest tool and that is knowledge.”
Ibarguen unveiled the Knight Community Information Labs initiative. Community foundations can apply for $250,000 grants that would apply the essentials of human-centered design training to better understand residents’ information needs and fill those gaps. Applications will be accepted through March 24 with four recipients announced in the summer. The lab has its roots in the Knight Community Information Challenge, which provided $22 million to 88 foundations.
The Knight Foundation is also expanding the three-year Knight-Temple Table Stakes project from four metro newspapers (including the Miami Herald) to 12. The new $4.8 million Knight-Lenfest Newsroom Initiative will help those publications accelerate the shift to digital from print.
Ibarguen announced an open call for ideas to counter misinformation and correct false or inaccurate claims appearing as news and shared on social platforms.
He also said two initiatives launched in 2016 are even more relevant today: The Knight-Columbia First Amendment Institute and the Ethics and Governance of Artificial Intelligence Fund.
The seminar at the Biscayne Bay Marriott kicked off with a lively discussion of “Trust, Journalism, Fake News, Technology and the future of Informed Communities.”
“We can agree that something is broken, profoundly broken,” said panel leader Brian Stelter, host of CNN’s “Reliable Sources.”
Media bias “has caused anger and angst,” asserted Christopher Ruddy, president of the conservative-leaning Newsmax Media, who warned that U.S. media outlets have neglected Americans who live “between the Beltway and Hollywood.”
Nikole Hannah-Jones, a New York Times reporter and co-founder of the Ida B. Wells Society for Investigative Journalism, agreed that the media has increasingly insulated itself from vast swaths of the U.S. population while catering to a narrow sector of media consumers.
“I represent black and brown communities that have never trusted the media,” she said. “There seems to be only a conversation between white conservatives and the white media. I would love to know if the conservative media is doing some soul-searching as well. It’s not just a problem with the liberal media.”
National Public Radio’s Mike Oreskes asked: “Can we rebuild journalism and trust community by community?” and cited the model of the radio call-in show as one answer.
Mike Wilson, editor of the Dallas Morning News, said he spoke directly with local residents who assembled outside his office to protest the newspaper’s endorsement of Hillary Clinton.
“I think talking with people more often and offering readers more access to their local media source can be part of the solution,” he said.
Stelter proposed a moratorium on the term “fake news.”
“Can we find a way to get our president to stop using it?” he asked. “He’s de-legitimizing the media every day.”
Ruddy said the media underestimates Trump at its own peril.
“I think the president is at war with the media and Americans see that the media is at war with him,” he said. “He’s probably the most media-savvy president in the history of the country.
“There’s a daily stream of invective against Trump — he’s a pathological liar, he’s mentally ill. Well, does he exaggerate? Yes. He says, ‘I’m a showbiz guy.’ But he’s had three careers in his life. He is very smart.”
The goal of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation is to foster informed and engaged communities, which it believes are essential for a healthy democracy.