National news outlets squander the public’s trust and local journalists suffer for it

This year the Columbia Journalism Review released the results of a national survey finding “the press” was the least trusted institution they asked about.

They also asked respondents about Congress.

You have to work at being trusted less than Congress.

That term, though. “The press.” What does it mean?

More on that in a moment; let’s talk about why the survey found what it did.

The non-profit group Project Veritas has released a leaked video of ABC journalist Amy Robach venting frustration over the hold put on a story about pedophile Jeffrey Epstein.

Robach said she could have broken the news about his crimes years before his most recent arrest (and subsequent death, in prison, under suspicious circumstances).

This comes on the heels of journalist Ronan Farrow, whose work helped uncover the abuses of Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, accusing NBC News of spiking his story. NBC denies this, but just two months after leaving that outlet, Farrow was able to publish his story in the New Yorker.

That work won a Pulitzer Prize.

Both NBC and ABC say they held back these stories because they didn’t meet editorial standards.

That might be more believable if the national news media hadn’t picked up and run with every thinly-sourced accusation against Supreme Court Justice Bret Kavanaugh during his confirmation process, as just one example.

Criticism of the national press is deserved, but the news media is not monolithic.

There is a mighty gulf between local reporters covering the park board and the craven, bloviating talking heads on cable news.

Or the condescending national print media journalists who, from time to time, come to fly-over country to churn out stories for national publications which have the tone of a travel journal from someone visiting a backward and deeply unsophisticated place.

It’s not local journalists who are squandering the public’s trust.

While there’s always criticism (with varying degrees of fairness), most people like and trust local reporters.

The people they’re frustrated with work in the national news media.

Yet it’s often local media outlets who pay for the mendacity on display from the nationals.

My employer, Forum Communications Company, has launched a paywall and is asking you readers to subscribe.

When I talk with friends and readers about this, I get pushback from some, especially people with right-of-center politics. They talk about media bias and ask why they should support journalism, which, in their view, isn’t fair to the issues and candidates they support.

When asked for examples of this bias, they mostly talk about national news stories.

There’s the rub.

The local journalists who cover local stories having nothing to do with that absurd, mendacious shouting match you just watched on CNN.

We in local media could do a better job of drawing a line between them and us.

The public could do a better job of acknowledging the distinction.

While we work on that, subscribe to your local paper, whether it’s this one or another. There are already lots of people getting paid to talk about Donald Trump and Congress. There aren’t nearly so many covering the issues closest to you.

Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, a North Dakota political blog, is a Forum Communications commentator. Listen to his Plain Talk Podcast and follow him on Twitter at @RobPort.


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