It’s true. The American public is losing faith in its traditional news sources. A 2018 Gallup survey of the public’s confidence in U.S. institutions put newspapers and television news near the bottom. Forty percent of respondents reported little or no faith in the printed media, and 45% shared those feelings about TV news. An Ipsos poll last year found nearly one-third of Americans agreed the news media is the “enemy of the people.”

That’s pretty harsh, but it’s what they believe.

It’s not just frustrating, but frightening to know that 30 to 45% of citizens don’t trust the very institutions that exercise the right of free speech guaranteed in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Let’s see if we can sort this out. In my opinion, three components of this issue need to be addressed: (1) personal hypocrisy, (2) evaluation of today’s media and (3) what can be done to reestablish a respectful perception.

In terms of personal hypocrisy, have you ever heard someone refer to the Standard-Examiner as the “Sub-Standard Exaggerator”? Yet, in another conversation, that same individual will substantiate his comments with the statement, “I read it in the paper.” That’s not fair.

In today’s world, some politicians may use the term “fake news” to dismiss anything negative about them or their positions simply because the information is disagreeable. They might even create fabrications to counter uncomfortable stories. Pointing fingers is a precarious thing if we consider the timeless adage, “When you point one finger, there are three fingers pointing back at you.”

As we evaluate today’s media, we must admit, there is such a thing as fake news. However, most information that deserves that label is found in social media. By and large, mainstream media take their responsibilities seriously. It is important to distinguish between professional journalism and others that claim the title but don’t operate professionally. They were created to attract attention, entertain and earn big dollars.

It is important for major media institutions and individual journalists to be responsible. The Society of Professional Journalists and its Utah chapter promote a code of ethics that includes these principles:

1) Seek truth and report it,

2) Minimize harm (by treating sources, subjects, colleagues and members of the public as human beings deserving of respect),

3) Act independently and

4) Be accountable and transparent.

A great example of what our schools of journalism produce is Patrick Parkinson, who was trained at Weber State University, worked for The Signpost, the Standard-Examiner and the Park Record in Park City. He passed away in 2016 at age 43. He was much too young, but during his brief professional career, he vigorously practiced the highest standards of journalism, going after fairness and facts, and leaving opinion to editorialists.

My observation of Pat reinforces my experience with the overwhelming majority of dozens and dozens of professional communicators with whom I’ve worked.

That goes for most industry leaders too. The Standard-Examiner’s retiring publisher, Rhett Long, who plans on staying in Northern Utah, has had the goal of supporting the community and producing fair and factual content. He is an example of what his editors and reporters stand for as well. I know them. They are stellar individuals.

These professionals are unquestionably not enemies of the people, nor are they the exception.

So, here’s what we can do about the perception of fake news. We can test their stories, along with the claims of the finger pointers. Reputable agencies like FactCheck.org, Snopes.com, TruthOrFiction.com and Politifact.com dedicate their resources to helping the public find the truth.

In summary, to sustain a healthy and open society, responsible news organizations must exist, public figures must devote themselves to being truthful and citizens must look for a balanced variety of news sources regularly while validating the information they receive.

This is how trust can be restored. And we can all do better.

Robert A. Hunter is director of the Olene S. Walker Institute of Politics & Public Service at Weber State University. He may be contacted at: rhunter@weber.edu. Joshua Petersen, Walker Institute intern, contributed to this article.

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