ASNE launches journalism credibility initiative

RESTON, Va. – The American Society of Newspaper Editors will embark on a three-year, million-dollar initiative to identify and address the root causes of journalism’s dwindling credibility.

RESTON, Va. – The American Society of Newspaper Editors will embark on a three-year, million-dollar initiative to identify and address the root causes of journalism’s dwindling credibility.

With a $780,000 grant from the Robert R. McCormick Tribune Foundation and additional funding from participating newspapers, ASNE will seek to create a better understanding of why public trust in newspapers is declining and to develop industry action to deal with the problem.

"The Journalism Credibility Project is among the most ambitious initiatives ASNE has ever undertaken," said ASNE President Sandra Mims Rowe. "It is an extraordinary opportunity. Never have I seen journalists more determined to understand and reverse the damaging erosion of our credibility with the public."

Neal Creighton, president of the McCormick Tribune Foundation, said, "We are delighted to support ASNE’s plans to probe beneath the surface of one of the most important issues facing journalism today. ASNE is uniquely positioned to bring together journalism’s leaders, organizations and institutes to study and address the credibility problem."

The key components of the three-year ASNE Journalism Credibility Project are:

  • A journalism credibility think tank. ASNE members and other industry leaders will meet over a three-year period to work to study the problem, analyze research findings, and develop proposed solutions to the credibility problem."
  • A review of existing survey research on journalism credibility. Existing data on credibility, both in the public and private domains, will be reviewed to firmly establish a baseline of information on public perceptions and how journalistic practices mesh with widely held beliefs.
  • ASNE Journalism Credibility Studies. Two random samples of 1,200 adults each will be interviewed to probe questions not explored in the previous research and to flesh out contradictions and mysteries uncovered in the review of research.
  • Test site research partnerships with eight newspapers. In addition to the national research, eight newspapers will study journalism credibility issues in their local communities and implement solutions. Those newspapers are: The Philadelphia Inquirer; The Oregonian, Portland; Austin (Texas) American-Statesman; San Jose (Calif.) Mercury News; Sarasota (Fla.) Herald-Tribune; The Gazette of Colorado Springs, Colo.; the Daily Press of Newport News, Va.; and Florida Today, Melbourne.
  • ASNE convention programs. The results of the first year’s work and discussion of underlying issues affecting journalism credibility will be presented in an extraordinary session at the 1998 ASNE convention. The session will be videotaped for dissemination to editors and broadcasters. Subsequent findings will be highlighted at the next two conventions.

Three major reports will be issued. In the third year of the project, regional seminars focused on improving journalism credibility will be offered to editors.

"The project’s partnership with ‘test site’ newspapers will bring perspective to the national findings by creating a deeper understanding of how the public trust in journalism is reflected in communities across the country," said Maxwell E.P. King, chairman of ASNE’s Ethics and Values Committee and editor of The Philadelphia Inquirer. "Trust in newspapers and journalism credibility are profoundly linked, and through the ASNE Journalism Credibility Project editors will seek to illuminate the underlying reasons for public discontent."

Rowe, who is the editor of The Oregonian, said: "If we really believe something must be done beyond hand-wringing, and if we choose serious and thoughtful consideration of this problem over quick fixes, fads or formulaic approaches, then we can develop long-range actions that can advance our credibility and increase public trust. This problem will not be solved, trust will not be rebuilt, in a year or two. But with the Journalism Credibility Project, we’ve made a commitment to understanding the ‘why’ behind eroding public trust and will set into motion an intelligent long-term discussion and planning process to address it."

ASNE has employed The Harwood Group, a public issues research firm in Bethesda, Md., to conduct research and assist in facilitating the ASNE Journalism Credibility Project. *

Founded in 1922, ASNE is an organization of the main editors of daily newspapers in the United States and Canada. There are currently 870 members. The project is funded through the ASNE Foundation, which raises money to support broad projects of the ASNE committees.

The Robert R. McCormick Tribune Foundation is one of the 50 largest foundations in the country, with current assets of more than $1 billion. Based in Chicago, the foundation makes grants for journalism, early childhood education and citizenship programs. And it has more than 40 partner funds in 17 cities which make grants to a broad range of community organizations.

* Building on its work with The Harwood Group, ASNE retained Urban and Associates of Sharon, Mass., in February 1998 to complete the project. Harwood is no longer associated with the project.