TRUST. A thing mainstream media is now battling to regain or maintain, with people now relying more on the internet in getting their daily dose of news. Blogs and social media pages posing as legitimate news sources are cropping up like mushrooms and contributing so greatly to online chaos that the public now has difficulty parsing truth from falsehood. Disruption is becoming a new normal. So has fake news, and all of these contribute to loss of trust in core institutions that have worked hard for decades to keep their credibility intact.
Media organizations in Cebu are not exempted from this scourge. Newspaper companies like SunStar, Cebu Daily News and The Freeman, as well as TV and radio groups are finding ways to restore or keep the readers’ trust. Below are some practices of these newsrooms to keep that faith burning.
1) Adhering to journalism’s standards and ethics
Journalists are taught not just to hone their writing skills but also to develop the sense of responsibility necessary in their field.
“Beyond good writing skills, you go back to the basic tenets of journalism—accuracy, fairness, fact checking, and sensitivity to the public’s sensibilities when handling delicate stories,” said Edra Benedicto, editor-in-chief of Cebu Daily News (CDN).
A code of ethics and standards is the journalists’ bible. To them, news is never fake. It is authentic and a product of their hard work. Their publication is not a repository of unverified information. Reporters work around the clock to gather accurate data, and the stories they file pass through a rigorous process—editing, vetting and fact checking—to ensure that they are presented fairly and honestly.
“This means we do not cut corners in our processes to ensure that what we publish—on print or online—is correct, verified and uncompromised,” said Joeberth Ocao, The Freeman’s online editor.
2) Attributing information to sources
Attribution, a practice that seems to be eroding on social media, is also important, said Isolde Amante, SunStar Cebu’s editor-in-chief.
“We always attribute to our sources. We’ve also minimized the use of anonymous sources. If any question is raised about a specific story, we publish the relevant portions of interview transcripts,” she said.
For Mary Ann Uy, news chief of ABS-CBN Cebu, it’s all about giving the public a “full, clean package.”
“On videos, we blur what we need to blur, cover what we need to cover, indicate courtesy if the material is not ours. We attribute information. We don’t mention names if they must not be mentioned. We get all sides. We verify and get sides via on cam interview, phone call, text message, even online messaging,” Uy added.
3) Accepting accountability
In journalism, being responsible means holding the journalists accountable.
SunStar Cebu ensures that if a mistake is made, a correction is issued. “[The correction] appears online as soon as the error is confirmed, and in the next immediate print edition,” Amante said. The same goes for The Freeman and Cebu Daily News.
“While it is embarrassing to get burned, ethical journalists don’t like to sweep them under the rug, and it is the duty of the reporter and his/her news outlet to immediately rectify the wrong info or erroneous story,” CDN’s Benedicto said.
“These are strategies that are tested by time and, at the minimum, what every journalist and news organization is expected to do,” added Ocao.
4) Correcting misinformation
Aside from correcting errors in their stories, journalists in Cebu also correct misinformation that some individuals or groups have spread online to drown out facts and influence the public’s understanding of what’s really happening.
“On social media, we correct erroneous or patently false posts. During the May 2016 elections, we helped point out a false post that claimed—before 10 a.m. on election day—that the results were already in and that Duterte had won. Again, we’re not sure whether we reached the same audiences that the false post had reached, but we did our part by pointing out that it was wrong,” said Amante.
A more obvious effort along these lines is SunStar Cebu’s Vitals page, which comes out on Sundays.
“In Vitals, we hope to give readers a deeper look at the facts and, along the way, correct any misinformation,” said Amante.
“SunStar Cebu is making a consistent effort to present data to readers in a way that we hope will draw their attention. You can see that in every issue, in the snippets of background material or statistics that accompany most stories. These ‘layers’ are meant to enrich the stories, as well as point to credible information sources that readers can examine if they wish,” she added.
5) Doing journalism as public service
Journalism is also a great way to do public service, one of the factors driving ABS-CBN Cebu to do its job.
“We believe in putting public service together with journalism. When we dig deeper on what journalism really is, we can see that it is all about empowering people and making their lives better,” said Uy, stressing that they research on information the people really need.
For her and other broadcast journalists, public service is the best tool to highlight the foundations of journalism.
“When people see that, and understand that, they will realize its worth and our worth as media,” Uy said.
There are a lot more ways by which media organizations can rebuild or keep trust in journalism.
As Benedicto said, “No right thinking mainstream media organization would want to be a purveyor of fake news because its credibility is its selling point.”
Read also: Restoring faith in journalism
(CJJ12 was published in hardcopy in September 2017.)