This one-year Journalism and the Public: Restoring the Trust project is designed to help journalists, academics and the public begin a change process to build greater trust between journalists and the public. It is a direct response to the CBS/Dan Rather firestorm of criticism and the September, 2004, Gallup Poll which reports, “the news media’s credibility has declined significantly, with just 44 percent of Americans expressing confidence in the media’s ability to report news stories accurately and fairly,” representing a 10 percent drop from last year and the worst level in 30 years. The Gallup Poll re-enforces the “State of the Media 2004” report, published by the Project for Excellence in Journalism, which states, “Public attitudes about the press have been declining for nearly 20 years. Americans think journalists are sloppier, less professional, less moral, less caring, more biased, less honest about their mistakes and generally more harmful to democracy than they did in the 1980s.” It continues, however: “Journalists believe they are working in the public interest and are trying to be fair and independent in that cause. This is their sense of professionalism.” So there is an apparent disconnection here.
“The State of the Media 2005” reports the good news is that by 2005 things haven’t appeared to worsen, however, the bad news is, “It may be that the expectations of the press have sunk enough that they will not sink much further. People are not dismayed by disappointments in the press. They expect them.”
The Premise: Change is a slow process and it will not begin by itself. It needs catalysts for action, and this project is designed to be one of those catalysts. With proper presentation, the project organizers believe journalists can see which changes would be beneficial to them, their profession, and the general public. Furthermore, what is learned from this project will be useful in journalism classrooms.
The Partners: This project was conceived by Leonard Witt, Robert D. Fowler Distinguished Chair in Communication at Kennesaw State University, outside of Atlanta, and Cole Campbell, dean of the Reynolds School of Journalism at University of Nevada-Reno. This project will work closely with the Civic Journalism Interest Group (CJIG) in the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC) and the Public Journalism Network (PJNet), a professional society for journalists and scholars founded in January 2003.