Restoring Trust in Journalism at the Local Level

Restoring relationships between news organizations and local communities was the primary focus of the February 27 panel “Building Trust in the News Media.”

Part of CCP’s annual Law and Society week, the panel was organized by Resolve Philadelphia, a local non-profit organization focused on solutions-based journalism. The event was moderated by Resolve co-executive director Cassie Haynes and featured Resolve community engagement editor Derrik Cain, Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Mike Newall, CCP English professor Debonair Oates-Primus, and Vanguard editor-in-chief Abdullah Pullin. 

Attracting a mix of students and local professionals, the discussion resonated highly with students who grew up dissatisfied with media coverage in their communities. 

“It’s hard for me to trust the media,” said student Nydea Graves, attributing her distrust to violence-inducing coverage following 9/11 and heavily biased coverage of her community in Coatesville. “I liked hearing from Resolve that they are working really hard to close that trust gap between communities and news outlets.”

Graves was especially interested in Resolve’s “Sound Off” event series. Sound Off events, run by panelist Derrik Cain, function as “community newsrooms,” facilitating accurate coverage of historically underrepresented and unfairly reported communities. 

“Imagine if journalists used community feedback to write stories,” Cain urged. These efforts “prevent the spread of false narratives, particularly in black and brown communities,” something Cain identified as a major source of distrust in the media. 

According to panelist Mike Newall, the establishment of mutual trust through these events needs to start with traditional reporting as well. 

“People often go into communities and end up speaking to or for the community, and that isn’t the right way to do it,” Newall said. He stated that the responsibility of a reporter is to instead “be aware of differences and make it clear why you care.” 

Panelist Debonair Oates-Primus drew parallels between media efforts to build trust and trust-building efforts she makes in the classroom. “Their lived experiences mean that they have not been taught to build trust in these institutions,” Oates-Primus explained, adding that news consumers and community members then pick up on “the lack of effort to build that trust.”

Throughout the panel, she also advocated for increasing diversity in the journalism industry, addressing racial bias in newsrooms, and eliminating coded language. 

These goals resonated most with student Nydea Graves, who suggested she could begin to gain trust in news media “if news institutions are really working on taking out coded language and also being really honest about what differences there are.”

While building trust takes more than what can be covered in one panel, reaching and considering the perspectives of community members like Graves is the main purpose of Resolve Philadelphia’s community engagement projects. 

69% of people who have lost trust say that it can be restored,” cited moderator and Resolve co-executive director Cassie Haynes. “That is a statistic we hold onto.”

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