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SPJ Journalist on Call project launches in Casper, Wyoming


Alison Bethel McKenzie, SPJ Executive Director, 317-920-4780, abmckenzie@spj.org
Rod Hicks, SPJ Journalist on Call, casperproject@spj.org
Jennifer Royer, SPJ Director of Communications and Marketing, 317-361-4134, jroyer@spj.org

INDIANAPOLIS – Citizens who are skeptical of the news will participate today in the first of a series of sessions in Casper, Wyoming, aimed at understanding the root of their distrust and identifying information that might be useful in developing strategies for rebuilding trust.

The six-month project, conducted by the Society of Professional Journalists and SPJ Foundation, will seek citizens’ thoughts about the relationship between democracy and the media in an evolving U.S. media environment.

Wyoming was chosen for the project because its residents are slightly more distrustful of the press than those in other states, according to a survey by Gallup released last year. Casper, located in the center of the state, is the second-largest city in Wyoming and home to several news sources, including the state’s largest newspaper, the Casper Star-Tribune.

Annual surveys by Gallup show a steady decline in media trust over the decades. The press enjoyed its highest level of confidence among Americans in the mid-1970s following Watergate, with nearly 70 percent of citizens trusting what was reported in the mass media. That number dropped to 45 percent in 2018.

Led by SPJ Journalist on Call Rod Hicks, the project will also examine trust by listening to what citizens say they want from the press and their perceptions of how journalism is practiced in the United States. Participants — adults who have at least some skepticism about the news media — will be given guidance on how to sort through the confusing media landscape, including how to distinguish between news and other types of information.

“We plan to have discussions about how journalists do their jobs and the steps they take to ensure stories are accurate and balanced,” Hicks said. “Over time, the sessions will reveal whether participants see journalism as a critical part of democracy and under what circumstances, if any, are they willing to trust the news media.”

Local journalists, news organizations and a college intern in the area are providing support, particularly between sessions when Hicks is not in Casper. Participants are expected to attend all five two-hour sessions held over six months. They will be encouraged to participate in the discussions and offer examples of stories or coverage that reinforce their skepticism of the news media. They will be given information and resources to supplement the discussions.

“We will encourage participants to be honest in their criticisms of journalism and about their perspectives,” Hicks said. “We expect some of the discussions to be difficult, but in the end, our hope is that we will understand more about what readers, viewers and listeners want from the media, and they will understand more about the journalism profession and the process reporters and editors go through to ensure the news is brought to them every day.”

Findings of the project will be presented at the Excellence in Journalism 2019 conference in San Antonio in September.

"Maintaining the credibility of professional journalists can be a challenge in the modern media universe, where questionable, or false information floods the internet and the public increasingly lumps all ‘media’ together in its skepticism,” said SPJ Foundation President Irwin Gratz. “We're hoping to create a model that will reconnect the public with journalism it can rely on."

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.

The Society of Professional Journalists Foundation is a public foundation dedicated to ensuring that those who carry on the tradition of a free press are prepared for the challenge. The SPJ Foundation supports educational and professional needs of journalists and journalism students. Support excellent journalism and fight for your right to know. Give to the Society of Professional Journalists Foundation.


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