Student Paper Wants To Restore Trust in Media

Jan 16, 2020

The student paper at the University of Oregon this week launched a project aimed to restore public trust in journalism. The goal is also to show the community how reporters do their jobs. 

The Oregon Daily Emerald Offices on the UO campus.
Credit Rachael McDonald

Francis O’Leary is Coordinator of Equity and Inclusion for the Oregon Daily Emerald. And Michael Tobin is Editor in Chief. I asked O’Leary to explain the inspiration for the trust project.

Francis O’Leary: A few months ago there were two controversies across the nation. One of them was at the Harvard, the Harvard Crimson is their student paper. And the other was at the Daily Northwestern at Northwestern University. 

It is not enough just to be a good journalist; you have to give people a reason to trust you.

In both cases, the journalists followed journalistic ethics in their reporting but still faced backlash from student activists. Michael and I got into a little bit of an argument on Twitter about this but because of that argument, I started sort of examining the cases more. And I came to realize that though the journalists had done their job, in quotation marks, they’d “done their job”,  it’s not enough just to be a good journalist; you have to give people a reason to trust you. They don’t owe you trust. You owe them a reason to trust you.” After that, we decided we needed to work on it. We needed to do something about it. To try and remedy any sort of lack of trust and get ahead of any controversy that we would have. So that’s where the idea that the Emerald Trust Project came from.

Michael Tobin: I think we kind of had at the beginning a bit of like a philosophical difference in kind of approaching how these two controversies were portrayed and just kind of like analyzing them but I think that what came out of that was something that was really beneficial for the entire community and our newsroom. I think that it is correct that we need to do more to reach out to our community and say here’s how we do our job; these are kind of the steps that we take in our reporting process and just kind of opening up that black box of journalism that’s like, here’s how you take a story from pitch to publication. Just showing all of the processes. Because, there’s so much distrust right now and people aren’t sure how journalism works. I think we really have to kind of like state the obvious or what we think is obvious because there is a lot of misunderstanding.

Rachael McDonald: Yeah, I think the climate has changed in that the way that journalists are viewed has deteriorated, especially with the current administration. I think it’s interesting that you took the tack that it’s up to us to earn trust as opposed to, oh, they just don’t understand what journalism is.”

Francis O’Leary: Right, I think that, other parties, like you said, the current administration has undermined a lot of trust in the news media and they’re going to continue to do so. And so, continuing to and just say, well we’re doing our jobs, isn’t enough. We have to. You know, it’s a battle of ideas and we should sort of bring ourselves to bear against that. And really try to be a force of good.

Michael Tobin: I think, you know, at the end of the day, this is our community. It’s our community on campus and this is ultimately the students’ newspaper. And I think that in the past we haven’t done a good job of kind of reflecting all the voices of the student body and letting students speak for themselves. And I think that now is the time where we have to recognize our faults and find a way to be proactive about fixing that in the future. So, ultimately, we have to be self-critical for sure and admit to past shortcomings. But there’s no reason why we couldn’t change that.

Rachael McDonald: You had an article that talked about the project. That’s kind of, I guess, the first step in terms of a public, this is what we’re doing. What happens next?

Francis O’Leary: We published an editorial on Monday about the Trust Project. And on our website attached to that editorial you can find the 5 steps that we have currently that include a Meet the Emerald event, which is an event where reporters will be available in public. We’re going to have free food for anybody that would like to come by. And we’re just going to chat. And people can talk about issues that they have with our reporting or things that they would like to see reported on or anything that really concerns them or interests them about reporting. And its going to be a low stress, no barrier situation. And that’s one of the 5 steps. The other one is just having an email address where people can say, hey I think this would be a good idea. And the 5 steps that we have now are, like you said, just the beginning. We have 5 more that we’re going to slowly roll out over time as the reporters in the newsroom build that muscle of making sure that they include how they got their information and so on and so forth in their reporting.

The “Meet the Emerald” event is on January 23rd from 6 to 8 p.m at Falling Sky on campus. is the contact email for the project.

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