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Report: Media trust project does not change opinions but fosters dialogue


Rod Hicks, SPJ Journalist on Call, 317-954-0025, casperproject@spj.org
Zoë Berg, SPJ Communications Coordinator, 317-920-4785, zberg@spj.org

INDIANAPOLIS – Results of a six-month media trust project confirm that while it’s difficult – if not impossible – to sway people’s opinions surrounding news, explaining the process of news gathering and decision making is beneficial.

Findings from the project, “Media Trust & Democracy: The Casper Project,” were announced last week during Excellence in Journalism 2019 in San Antonio. The Society of Professional Journalists and the SPJ Foundation concluded the media trust project, based in Casper, Wyoming, that aimed to get a deeper understanding of the reasons many people distrust news organizations and their reporting.

Read the full report and watch the Casper Project video.

The project, led by Journalist on Call Rod Hicks, included 36 participants from all walks of life. They were asked to attend five discussions and presentations that exposed them to the inner workings of the press.

Conservative Wyoming residents who participated said the press is biased against conservative values, intent on smearing President Donald Trump and uninterested in changing its ways. They, like moderates and liberals in the project, made no significant changes in their news consumption habits or level of trust in the news media after going through the sessions.

The project began in February and held its final session, which featured a panel of national journalists, in July. Hicks also will return to Casper on Oct. 8 to discuss the report with the participants. Wyoming was selected because it has the highest level of news media distrust, according to a survey by Gallup released last year.

Although no one changed their view of the press, the project produced valuable details about issues people have with the press, Hicks said. Most participants said they found the exercise worthwhile and learned a lot.

“For me, one of the big takeaways is that conservatives do not see themselves reflected in mainstream news coverage,” Hicks said.

The goal of the project was to help skeptical news consumers better understand the process of gathering and disseminating news, expose them to local and national journalists and listen to their grievances about the press, with hope of finding ways news organizations might address their complaints. The project also wanted to determine whether exposing participants to these activities would produce any changes in their trust of the press.

“Even though the participants didn’t gain more trust in the media, I still see the project as a success,” SPJ Foundation President Irwin Gratz said. “Media literacy is essential to SPJ’s mission. By educating people on how the media operates, they become more informed and engaged news consumers.”

SPJ and the SPJ Foundation hopes to continue media-trust and media literacy programs. Hicks also encourages other journalists and news organizations to implement similar projects and work on increasing media literacy.

The project makes five recommendations for news organizations:

Engage. Meet with your readers, listeners or viewers regularly to see what stories they’re interested in and to get feedback on coverage.
Educate. Explain how your news organization works and how journalists do their jobs, including how they confirm their reporting is accurate.
Seek out bias. Consider ways to make opinion more distinct from news. Make sure reporters who go on TV news shows know how to avoid getting sucked into giving their own opinion.
Be transparent. Tell your audience the motivation behind controversial decisions.
Create your own Casper Project. Tailor it to your audience, adding or removing sessions as appropriate. Set a schedule that fits your time and budget.

SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to informing citizens; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and fights to protect First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. Support excellent journalism and fight for your right to know. Become a member, give to the Legal Defense Fund or give to the SPJ Foundation.


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