Craiglist’s Founder Craig Newmark has donated $15 million to the two premier journalism institutions in the nation to teach ethics and improve trust among Americans.
Columbia School of Journalism in Missouri, with probably the leading graduate journalism program in the country, will get $10 million to establish the Craig Newmark Center for Journalism Ethics and Security. The Poynter Institute for Media Studies in Florida will get $5 million for the creation of an ethics center to teach practicing mainstream journalists proper ethics, and to teach media consumers about journalistic ethics, in hopes of regaining trust.
Alas, in the realm of rebuilding trust, it is doomed from the beginning by the ongoing unwillingness to admit the largest driving cause of the distrust.
Newmark said in a statement: “the Poynter Institute has been a leader in journalism ethics for decades now, so they’re well-poised to become one of the go-to resources for solutions to the challenges journalists face in this digital age.”
The new entity will be called the Craig Newmark Center for Ethics and Leadership at Poynter, which owns The Tampa Bay Times, the largest newspaper in Florida. Newmark is also a member of Poynter’s board of directors.
“The idea behind (the center) is more than just reaching out to practitioners, but also reaching out to consumers of journalism who I think are more and more interested in how our stories get told, who’s telling them, who’s paying for them, whether there’s bias or not,” said Poynter President Neil Brown. “So I think it’s become part of the cultural conversation right now. We felt this was a moment in time to expand our traditional work.”
The problem Brown is specifically not saying — in somewhat the same way the media chooses not to report some things, for example, a litany of scandals during the Obama Administration — is that public trust in the media is in the cellar and stuck there. Most Americans simply do not trust mainstream journalists, and virtually all conservative Americans do not. A cursory glance at coverage between Trump’s two years and Obama’s eight years should explain it pretty clearly.
A 2016 Gallup Poll put trust in the media at an all-time low since the poll began in 1972, with only 32 percent having even just “some” trust in the media. Among Republicans, it was only 14 percent. Gallup wrote: “After staying in the low to mid-50s through the late 1990s and into the early years of the new century, Americans’ trust in the media has fallen slowly and steadily. It has consistently been below a majority level since 2007.”
Of course hitting the bottom in 2016 was directly linked to the horrendously biased coverage of the 2016 presidential campaign.
Newmark told the Associated Press that he’s “been concerned since the 2016 election about attacks on the press and the trust of citizens in the institution.” So among his journalistic largesse, he gave $20 million to establish a graduate school for journalism at the City University of New York, an extremely leftist school. Well, to no one’s surprise, Newmark is a progressive Democrat.
“A trustworthy press is the immune system of democracy,” Newmark said. Yup. And he’s flushing his money down the hole because as we will see, none of this will even begin to restore trust.
Just a few months ago, the Columbia Journalism Review — the premier publication for working journalists as part of the Columbia School of Journalism — wrote an article on a Knight Foundation study under the headline: “Most Americans say they have lost trust in the media.” Roughly a similar number of Americans don’t trust the media as the earlier Gallup Poll (but it’s now up to 90 percent now among Republicans) and about a third of those said they expect that to be a permanent state.
From the CJR (which, remember, is written to journalists):
“Is this decline in trust related to the repeated attacks on “the lying media” by President Trump and his supporters, who like to describe the press as “the enemy of the people?” That kind of analysis is beyond the scope of the latest Knight/Gallup study, but it has to be part of the backdrop.”
This is just head-in-the-sand stuff. This entire article is written by a journalist for journalists and never raises even the possibility of the elephant in the (news)room: Americans may perceive the media as being untrustworthy because the media is untrustworthy. And they are untrustworthy because at every level they are dominated by liberals/progressives with no check or balance on their biases.
The trust numbers were falling steadily through the 2000s, and picked up speed during the Obama administration, all long before Trump came on the scene. Head in sand.
According to Gallup, only Congress has a lower confidence rating among the American people than the media. Ambulance-chasing lawyers do better. But the problem is Trump saying mean things about the media.
This is a totally self-inflicted wound, and not one that Craig Newmark’s millions for a center for journalism ethics is bound to change — because they won’t admit the actual problem. Like an alcoholic who refuses to admit his problem, nothing will change. He could spend $5 billion, and it wouldn’t matter if this dynamic remains in place.
When I was a working member of the mainstream media, I attended seminars at Poynter, which is in St. Petersburg, Florida. It was difficult because virtually everyone attending and everyone teaching was between left of center and far left of center. This is unchanged, and presents the obvious and still insurmountable hurdle in media regarding tanking public trust.
Poynter’s new ethics center will not consider that the media should pursue a diversity of worldview, but will surely preach on the importance of inclusivity based on skin, gender, and LGBTQI+ status. The assumption, defying everything we know about human nature, is that journalists are professionals and therefore can report fairly aside from their personal biases.
Americans have made clear the result of that mindset. Yet, I expect it is totally unchanged at Poynter.