Friday, January 26, 2007

Do Away With 'Trustiness,' Press

Jill Geisler wrote a touching piece on this week about the "power of communication in uncertain times." From a personal perspective through anecdote, she explains how she was thankful that her doctor had the sensitivity and understanding to carefully communicate to her her prognosis during a check for cancer.

"He gives details in person, not in cold recordings. I appreciated those small touches. They matter."

There is nary a mention of the press and journalism in the article, but Geisler ended up saying plenty about the trust between the press and its audience without explicitly saying so.

Geisler uses Words like "instructive approach," "courtesy," "calmly," "personally" and "thoughtfully" to explain the relationship between a source of knowledge and the consumer of it. Don't be fooled by the diary-like style. There's an important message in here.

"Knowledge really is power. When those in control think not only of their duties, but of your fears, when they treat you not as an object, a child or a victim -- but rather as a partner -- it makes a difference."

There is a constant tug-of-war within the role of the press as an informant. Occasionally the press can feel righteous; occasionally it can feel comforting. Often, broadcast news anchors like Brian Williams, Katie Couric, Charles Gibson, and the old guard - Tom Brokaw, Dan Rather and Peter Jennings - are thought of as "trusting." As the face of the news, it is their job to always ensure that trust. When it goes awry - like Rather, for instance - the public loses faith in the press.

Print publications like newspapers and magazines are the same thing, but the "anchor" of a newspaper is its masthead. There's a name to trust. When the content is faulty, so is the name, and a loss of trust ensues.

The press must stop worrying about its reputation and start concerning itself with its relationship with its readers. One will follow the other. Even when the news is something no one wants to read - like 9/11, perhaps - readers need that trust. It might come in writing style, in might come in fact-checking, it might come in story selection, it might come in coverage.

In a world where everyone is selling trust, it can't be said. It must be done.

I think Geisler understands the reality of the press beyond the surface of the daily grind. That understanding is something all journalists could use a little more of - or at least a reminder.

No comments: