Leave it to the reputable Pew Research Center to make the case that newspapers should become the Community Forum.
Reading through the Pew analysis released Aug. 31 finds important encouragement that newspapers do more to engage their communities and take more steps to explain the news business to the public.
The Relevance Project was created, in part, to help newspapers and their state/provincial press associations embrace the strategic significance of performing more like a Community Forum.
New urgency to do so flows from the many negative scores in Pew’s conclusions based on its yearlong study of Americans’ views of the news media.
Among the more painful headlines from Pew was this: “Americans are often more negative than positive about the news media’s role in society, standards.”
If newspapers were students, they’d flunk out of school when it comes to U.S. adults confidence in the news media. Less than half have a fair amount (39 percent) or a great deal (9 percent) of confidence, Pew reports. That means only 52 percent have confidence that journalists act in the best interests of the public.
But don’t despair.
Of all the news media, community newspapers have the best chance to convert negative views about journalists and news organizations into deeper trust and public loyalty.
One advantage is community newspapers report on issues that impact local residents, who, in turn, have the greatest opportunity for access to journalists.
The Relevant takeaway from the Pew research is that newspapers should launch a purposeful dialogue with the public about newspapers’ role in the community as well as in lifting up democracy.
The Relevance Project urges local news organizations to use National Newspaper Week in October to launch a Community Forum about newspapers. Check here for details about NNW.
In its simplest form, invite answers and suggestions to this question:
How can newspapers become the Community Forum?
To dig deeper, continue the conversations by addressing what Pew found was the public’s perceived lack of transparency by news organizations in several areas.
In a town hall — go virtual during the pandemic — or an open conversation, address these issues where the news media, according to Pew, is falling down by doing a poor job explaining:
- Where their money comes from.
- Where there are conflict of interests.
- How they choose and find sources.
- Whether a story is opinion or factual.
- How they produce their stories.
- When a correction has been made.
In its coverage and in its editorials, newspapers demand that government, business and community organizations be transparent about their practices. That makes it even more of a necessity that newspapers as the Community Forum show the way.
In its many conclusions, Pew underscores a significance that 63 percent of the U.S. adults say that “ideally, it’s better if the public is skeptical rather than trusting of the news media.”
That’s indeed an excellent metric.
One of the driving forces behind being the Community Forum is that it focuses the newspaper’s efforts each day to win the benefit of doubt from its public. That creates vital trust.
And on this point, Pew’s research provides the greatest incentive.
When asked directly whether Americans think their level of confidence in journalists can improve, three-quarters says such an outcome is possible.
“The view that confidence in the media could increase also is common among both those who say that, in an ideal word, the public would be trusting of the news media (85%) and those who say it is better for society to be skeptical of journalists (69%),” Pew stated.
Pew states that most Americans want to have personal connections with their news sources. And it stands to reason, Pew notes, that “Americans who have a closer relationship with their news sources are more supportive of the news media overall.”
Again, embrace the Community Forum where you can commit to a series of events where the public can meet the newsroom to get better acquainted.
Use the Community Forum conversations and access to pull the public closer to newspapers.
Americans are telling us, thanks to Pew, they very much want that.
I’m going to keep digging through the Pew Report, which based its findings on a survey of U.S. adults conducted Feb. 18-March 2, 2020. The results are ripe for an interactive association webinar.
The Relevance Projects stands ready to help press associations advance the Community Forum initiative.