News Integrity Initiative: Building a More Trustworthy Public Square

April 4, 2017

Josh Stearns co-authored this piece with Paul Waters.

At the Democracy Fund we believe that a healthy democracy depends on a vibrant and trustworthy public square. At a time of deep partisanship and threats to democratic ideals and institutions, media have a powerful role to play informing the public and helping bridge the differences we face in our communities, and our nation. However, the erosion of trust in journalism raises profound challenges for a democracy that depends on an open marketplace of ideas, vibrant civil debate, and a press that holds all leaders accountable.

We joined the News Integrity Initiative because we understand that trust is a complex issue and that it demands a diversity of approaches.

The News Integrity Initiative, a project by the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, is focused on helping people make informed judgments about the news they read and share online. By funding applied research and convening meetings with industry experts, the Initiative will work to advance news literacy, increase trust in journalism around the world, and better inform the public conversation.

We are excited to join others in supporting a range of people, practices, and ideas to rebuild new kinds of relationships between communities and newsrooms. There is no silver bullet to solve all concerns around trust in media, but we want to roll up our sleeves and work with others who are committed to asking hard questions and seeking out workable solutions to complicated problems.

At the Democracy Fund, we bring to this work a deep commitment to local news, community engagement, and diversity in media. We know that trust looks different in different communities, and that trust is often nuanced, contextual, and shifting. Part of how we got here today is through self-inflicted wounds by an industry that hasn’t always served the needs of everybody in America. And we are aware that issues of trust in media are not new for many communities who have been left out, misrepresented, and hurt by media coverage throughout our nation’s history. We want to work with people in big cities and small rural communities, on the coasts and in the heartland, and in red and blue states across the country.

While these issues have been in the spotlight recently, the erosion of trust in journalism is part of broader shifts in how people relate to institutions across our democracy. The ongoing economic challenges facing the press today demand new ideas about the role the public in supporting and sustaining the press. We are encouraged by the News Integrity Initiative’s emphasis on putting people at the center of the discussion about trust.

Jeff Jarvis, the director of the Tow Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism at CUNY, which will administer the fund, wrote that he wants “to explore this issue from a public perspective ,” arguing that news literacy shouldn’t be “just about getting the public to read our news but more about getting media to listen to the public.” To that end, we need newsrooms that are deeply engaged with their communities and we need active citizens who are equipped and empowered as creators, consumers, and collaborators.

We look forward to working with the News Integrity Initiative and organizations across the country to catalyze efforts to put people at the center of American journalism and do the hard work of building a more trustworthy public square for all.

Democracy Fund
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Washington, DC 20036