How To Know If You Can Trust That Story

With Sally Lehrman - Award-winning journalist and founder of the Trust Project

Episode description:

The information environment today has two broad problems:  a supply side problem and a demand side problem. On the supply side, it is ridiculously easy for anyone to spread propaganda or outrage or lies online, and on the demand side, it is hard for audiences to distinguish manipulation from fact-based news.

Today’s guest, Sally Lehrman, aims to tackle the problem from both sides of the ledger. She’s a long-time journalist and founder of the Trust Project, an organization that evaluates newsrooms along eight standards of integrity, called trust indicators. Newsrooms that measure up display a “Trust Mark” on their sites to help distinguish them from less deserving sites, and audiences, including social media platforms, can thus make an informed judgment about that site’s trustworthiness.

Sally and I talk about what the trust indicators are and how they work and how everyday news consumers can use them. We’ll also get into more philosophical questions: to what extent newsrooms are responsible for the distrust audiences feel; about audience’s reactions to coverage of the war in Gaza; and whether media literacy training really works.




Eric Schurenberg (00:01.026)

Sally Lehrman, welcome to In Reality.


Sally Lehrman (00:04.04)

Thank you, it’s a pleasure to be here talking with you, Eric.


Eric Schurenberg (00:08.262)

Let’s introduce yourself, if you don’t mind. Let me ask you to do that. You are an award-winning journalist. You founded The Trust Project in 2014. Before, really, I at least was really conscious of the disinformation crisis. Did something happen? Was there a kind of road to Damascus-like experience that made you pivot in this direction?


Sally Lehrman (00:34.74)

Um, yeah, I guess so in some ways. So I’m a, I’ve been a journalist my entire career, other than a short stint working in a canning tomato canning factory and on a farm. But other than that, um, I, I got my training and within a newsroom and kind of rose up through daily news and went into work in magazines…


Health Magazine, Scientific American, and then also did public radio documentaries with the DNA files, and that’s how I won the Peabody, which I’m just really proud it was a great group to work with. So I’ve devoted most of my career to covering science and social issues around science, but I’ve also had this strong commitment, probably because I was kind of grew up in my career in a newsroom, I’ve had this commitment to the underpinnings of journalism, the ethics, the commitments that we make to the public. And I’ve been involved in professional organizations like the Society of Professional Journalists. I was on the National, the local board, the national board and their foundation board. And what, through that process of really engaging with journalists around the country over our highest values, I grew more and more concerned because what I saw happening was trust declining in news, even as we’re trying to do our best. And I, as the president of the Northern California chapter, I gathered a group of technology leaders who were involved in the news business, or maybe there are news leaders that were involved in technology to start talking together about, well, how can we elevate trust in the news in this digital realm? Because that was the point where I saw it starting to break, is when we moved into the digital realm, and everything looked the same. So when you’re looking at it online at a news site, it looks just like a corporate site presenting information or trying to sell you something. And now when you’re looking at news on your phone or on other surfaces, you might be getting propaganda that looks like news or something actually trying to incite you to anger or violence. But rolling back to that era, it was more just journalism competing with things that weren’t journalism. So we talked a lot about that and what we could do. And then going forward to about 2013, I gathered another group together, this time under the auspices of Santa Clara University, where I was… in a down chair of public service journalism, I think it was called for five years, and brought together a national group and asked them to explore these same issues. And what shocked me is that we, and actually it was earlier than 2013, it was a couple of years before that, and they were saying the same things. These were journalists, senior executives, saying the very same things they had said 10 years before. And I thought, we’re not making any progress here. Trust isn’t getting any better.


We need to do something different. And I had learned about the user-centered design process as an alum of the Knight Fellowship Program at Stanford. And I thought, let’s go do that. Let’s go talk to people about how they decide whether they trust the news. And I’m going to go ahead and start.


Why do they even value it? And so that was the beginning of the trust project. I just thought, we’ve got to do something about this. We can’t just continue the slide or journalism will disappear. And again, at the time, the issue was trust. And now, or in the intervening years, as trust declined, dis and misinformation flooded in. And dis meaning information that is deliberately misleading and misinformation just information that people accidentally share or believe that’s incorrect, not based in fact. So that was the moment where I thought, geez, we’ve been talking about this so long among ourselves, nothing is changing, it’s getting worse. We really need to change the picture. And so can we do something that will enable trustworthy news to emerge out of this hubbub online? And where we also… as journalists, as news organizations, can change our practices so that they are worthy of more trust. Because in that space, we were in fact, kind of dipping to the lowest common denominator. We were doing things like writing clickbait headlines. That was what was dominating. I had a speaker come to the event who had invented the idea of showing like a series of mug shots on a news page of people who had been arrested for crimes. So not charged, just arrested. And of course it really elevated her traffic, but that’s not what news is about. And she said, I wish I’d never thought of that because everyone was copying me. They thought it was such a great idea. Or celebrity shots and so on. So we have done things that really don’t deserve trust. And yet there are fundamentals of journalism are there and they really are grounded in integrity. So I thought, well, how do we…


Eric Schurenberg (05:43.574)



Sally Lehrman (06:09.388)

shift the picture and help news, help journalism kind of come back to its highest values and also demonstrate that to the public and to the technology platforms that are serving this up.


Eric Schurenberg (06:23.614)

Okay, let me ask you about the what I think you said 99% of journalists were saying the same thing they were saying before, even as basically the whole trust platform was catching fire around them. What is it that sort of people in the media were doing instinctively and that you found doing and saying instinctively that you found so frustrating?


Sally Lehrman (06:54.132)

Oh, well, it was, it was those things. It was just trying to grab attention online and not thinking about the consequences. So that is always a risk for journalism. And we still do try to get the clicks with the headlines, but we’re way more careful about accuracy of headlines and what just sensitivity and the reporting itself. I think we’ve learned a lot in the intervening years.


Eric Schurenberg (07:01.793)

Mmm, okay.


Sally Lehrman (07:22.26)

And the other piece was, one other piece was a lot of communities felt left out of the news. And so this includes people of color, communities of color, LGBTQ communities, but also ideological communities.


Eric Schurenberg (07:29.673)



Eric Schurenberg (07:41.743)

Yes, that is true.


Sally Lehrman (07:41.896)

So that would be, yeah. So people who feel like they just are ignored by journalism as a whole, even though we make our attempts.


Eric Schurenberg (07:53.258)

Yes, okay, so there is a lot to unpack there. To what extent though, just to go back to one popular theory of what’s happening here is that trust in all kinds of knowledge-based institutions is in decline and journalism is just caught up in that kind of tidal wave. Is there a special animosity towards the press? And if so, why is that?


Sally Lehrman (08:23.576)

Oh, well, that’s a great question. And so I would say, let’s think about what’s happened then in the past decade. So, and you’re right, like trust in what we see is a decline in trust in institutions like government or the various institutions, the justice, even healthcare delivery science. Part of what I see as having happened is that


Eric Schurenberg (08:46.369)



Sally Lehrman (08:54.008)

journalism became seen as an institution like that, was perceived as an institution that didn’t necessarily have the public interest at heart. And, or maybe I shouldn’t say didn’t necessarily, probably in some people’s minds totally didn’t. And we know from recent data from a Gallup Knight Foundation poll that like a shocking percentage of people feel that.


Eric Schurenberg (09:05.61)



Sally Lehrman (09:21.02)

They don’t, we don’t hold, as journalists, we don’t hold the public interest at heart. We hold our own either financial or just, I guess, ideological interests at heart. So just with that, as we get painted as part of the institutions, then we lose trust along with those institutions. And it’s very important. As,


Eric Schurenberg (09:31.251)



Sally Lehrman (09:50.undefined)

journalists to communicate to the public and convey to the public that our role really is to hold institutions accountable and to serve the public interest. So that is what the Trust Project is founded upon, this idea that the ideals of journalists hold us to holding institutions accountable and the public interest at heart. So we do not communicate that very well and I think sometimes lose sight of that.


Eric Schurenberg (09:59.53)



Sally Lehrman (10:19.96)

in terms of our purpose because of the other phenomenon that was happening with the advent of digital spaces for news and that is just the business model for news fell apart. So as everyone was scrambling to try to figure out a new business model, we didn’t always make the best decisions. So I would say that’s one big part of it. The other piece is that we have seen deliberate efforts to undermine.


Eric Schurenberg (10:37.037)



Sally Lehrman (10:50.1)

trust in news. So from politicians, from probably foreign actors who are sowing disinformation and trying to stir up distrust of any source of information that is reliable so that people are confused and kind of turning on upon one another. And so we see those things happening. They have increased in occurrence over the past. 10 years, probably five years, even more so.


Eric Schurenberg (11:23.894)

Let’s talk about that perception that journalists are part of the institutions that are indifferent to the welfare of the public and that are elitist. There is some element of truth there. I think about who… are the kinds of people that I’ve worked with over my career, and you may have the same experience covering science, is that they are college educated, they are upper middle class or middle class and up, they are overwhelmingly white. So there is some, if you look around a newsroom, also ideologically probably aligned to the left, far more than to the right.


There is a grain of truth there. Is that something that journalists need to be aware of, need to counteract?


Sally Lehrman (12:22.748)

Well, yes, of course. So journalists do come mostly, but I wouldn’t use quite that broad of a brush because journalism has diversified a lot in the last couple of years, not as much as it should, but definitely has. And it started out being very much like a blue collar enterprise. So it’s not like our whole history is bound up in elite.


Eric Schurenberg (12:48.84)



Sally Lehrman (12:51.476)

practices or universities or what have you. But we have become more like that. And so journalists as part of our everyday efforts should be paying attention to perspectives different from our own. That’s like a fundamental thing that we need to learn how to do if we don’t already. So there’s two pieces there. Like every time you report on a story, you’re looking at multiple perspectives. You’re not just taking one perspective and certainly you’re checking every single one of them.


Eric Schurenberg (12:52.747)



Sally Lehrman (13:20.988)

So you’re looking at an event or an issue from all the various perspectives of stakeholders. Now, so that’s number one. Number two is you can only do that well if you’re willing and able to set aside your own perspective because you have to try to not allow that to color what you’re hearing from others. And I do training on that. And I think a lot of it has to do with being aware that we…


First of all, just being aware of what our, at every level, what our own identity and upbringing, how that has shaped us and what we bring to the table from that. And then try to counteract that by listening more deeply, trying as hard as we can to set aside our assumptions and asking a lot of questions. So anybody, no matter what your background is, you’re gonna walk into covering a story a certain set of assumptions that you may not even be aware of. So an excellent journalist, and this will make the effort to set those aside and or counteract those. And this is one of the fundamentals of journalism that I think is very important for both journalists to remember and two, for the public to understand. That is one of the core reasons that journalism is different from everything else, is that it is our duty and we understand it to be our duty to really… work hard to bring in others’ perspectives and to share those out and to check the facts behind them and then allow the public to make their own decisions. So not to share a single perspective on any issue or event or idea, but instead to bring insight across multiple perspectives so people can make their own decisions.


Eric Schurenberg (15:10.91)

Well, that is certainly an ideal. And you could add that any knowledge-based institution, like science to pick one, or the legal profession, is all about constructing processes and standard operating procedures that take…one’s own prejudices out of the information gathering. So that is why you have double blind experiments, for example, or rules of evidence in a courtroom. And when it comes to journalism, there have been episodes that would undermine the sense that is actually how journalists are operating. And one that got a lot of attention a couple of years ago was the op-ed piece in the New York Times written by Tom Cotton, the very fact that the editorial page of the New York Times would run a story by a Republican member of Congress was considered so offensive that the editorial page editor was run out of his job. That did not go unnoticed. What is your response to that judgment of the level of success that journalists have had in living up to the ideal that you just described.


Sally Lehrman (16:40.308)

So the example you mean to say like he was run out of the job by other journalists? Is that what you mean as opposed to the public? Yeah. Okay. Because I know there was public outcry too. Yeah. So two things are happening there. One is that…


Eric Schurenberg (16:47.783)

Yes, that’s right. Yes, that’s right.


Sally Lehrman (17:00.828)

The New York Times, first we have to separate opinion from news. And in this case, there was, in a way, there was an overlap because it was the news side that was complaining, as I recall, but also the opinion side. But always to remember that, and that the news should not be blended with the opinion. And this is one of the things that arose during the move into digital, as we started to see those things blend. And in our research at the Trust Project, we found the public very unhappy with that.


Even though we thought we were help kind of responding to what people were looking for in the digital space No, in fact, they felt the concern that news was blending with opinion and to the journalists even maybe themselves Didn’t know the difference. So in the Tom Cotton piece, it was an opinion piece by Tom Cotton So I just want to make sure that we’re that everybody’s clear like there is this difference between opinion and news in that case They were trying the New York Times is trying to be more


inclusive in its opinion pages. They often get in trouble for this because every time they bring on a more conservative voice, usually they get complaints from the public, but I think it’s good to bring in more conservative voices and have that dialogue on an opinion page. I would not defend that particular editorial or the op-ed because, and it’s been a while, so I couldn’t give you the specific facts, but I know that there were some concerns about his claims.


in the piece and that it was…


Sally Lehrman (18:35.748)

What do I want to say? It was inflammatory. So there were reasons from a journalistic standpoint that one might be concerned with that op-ed. First of all, was it based in fact? And oftentimes we do work with our news organizations that are part of the Trust Project to ensure that they really are thinking about their opinion pages in terms of fact. Like we cannot.


Eric Schurenberg (18:38.087)



Sally Lehrman (19:03.204)

within the underneath the journalistic umbrella, even though we separate news from opinion, we cannot have opinion pieces that are just people making things up or making claims that are unfounded. And so that’s the reason that there were so many complaints on the part of journalists about that, along with some of the inflammatory statements that he made that were not based in fact.


Eric Schurenberg (19:13.358)



Eric Schurenberg (19:31.474)

Okay. All right. All right. Good. Let’s talk about the Trust Project’s trust indicators. You have alluded to a number of them, including separating news from opinion and so on. But let’s go through them because these are very important things for people to recognize about journalism that has high integrity.


Sally Lehrman (19:59.98)

Yeah, well, thanks. Thank you for that. And yes, so the as I was saying, when back in 2013, when I first got the idea to do this, and then 2014, we started to do the work of going out and talking to people about what do they value in the news? How do they decide whether to trust it? The goal was to figure out how do news organizations with integrity signal that to the public and to these technology platforms that are distributing the news?


And so we tried to learn from the public about what their needs and wants were around the news and then marry that with journalistic values. So we had a series of workshops with senior news executives and brought them the information from the public and engaged with them. Out of that came initially 37 trust indicators. We had to narrow it down to eight because 37 sounded like an awful lot to ask of a news organization. But these are things that


Eric Schurenberg (20:52.013)





Sally Lehrman (20:59.276)

news organizations show to the public on their news site, and then there’s associated markup in the code for the story that helps the technology platforms know they’re there. And they will all respond to questions that the public was asking. So the first is, and your audience is probably thinking about this too, is people were saying, we understand that journalists aim to be impartial, we were just talking about that, but they are human beings.


And no one’s really impartial. So tell us what your agenda is. And so one of the trust indicators is called best practices. And it’s all about that agenda. It’s about, well, the journalistic agenda should be to serve the public interest. What does that mean? What are the guardrails that we put around our work to ensure that we are following that path? And when we make a mistake, what do we do? Well, we make a correction and we tell the public. And so that’s the first one. Another one is, like you said, labeling. So separating opinion from news and labeling it very clearly. We have hundreds of news organizations participating around the world, and they all use those same labels in their own language and definitions that are shared across all of these places. So it’s a way of helping the public know, well, how do we define opinion? Well, it’s based in fact, as I said.


Eric Schurenberg (22:04.61)



Sally Lehrman (22:27.78)

How do we define analysis versus news? When am I looking at paid content? Things like that. Another one is information about the journalists. So journalists expertise, who is this person I’m being expected to trust? Think about trust. It’s about building again this relationship with this individual and institution. So can I trust that they’re an expert? Can I trust that


Eric Schurenberg (22:30.51)



Sally Lehrman (22:56.456)

they share my values or at least my ethics, can I have certain expectations that I know will be met? And so we have information that all of our sites provide about the journalist. Methods and references, those are both related to showing, well, where did this information come from or how was the story built, we were asked. And it’s not for every story, but for, and not everybody was going to look at this, but it’s about.


investigative stories, maybe more controversial stories, ones that maybe you’re even breaking quickly and we wanna know, well, where did this information really come from? And so news organizations that are part of the Trust Project include a little statement about their methods, like how did they gather the story? Why did they even pursue it in the first place? And then they would provide links, not embedded in the story, but separate so you know that they really are gonna go to sources of information.


Eric Schurenberg (23:34.435)



Sally Lehrman (23:53.672)

that then will link you to the original documents in some cases or to maybe a sources LinkedIn page, things like that. We also have diverse voices, which gets to one of the problems that we were talking about earlier. We really heard from people about how they wanted to hear, not just from people at high levels of business and government, but they wanted to hear from people like themselves. They often felt themselves missing from the news and people different from themselves. They understood and valued.


Eric Schurenberg (24:02.291)



Sally Lehrman (24:24.06)

that news organizations could help them understand other perspectives. And I know that we often hear, well, people are kind of in their own cocoons and like that, but people were saying that they expect something different from news. And then we have public engagement, it’s called actionable feedback. So it’s really that commitment of a news organization to respond to concerns, to complaints, to ideas from the public and not be that faceless institution that really is hard to trust.


Eric Schurenberg (24:56.594)

Okay. Well, these are inarguably signs of integrity in a news organization. Now, stepping to the other side of the audience journalist kind of ledger, imagine that you are a reader coming across a story online, perhaps shared by a Facebook link. How do you know whether that… that story comes from an organization that observes the trust indicators.


Sally Lehrman (25:30.352)

Yeah, well, I mean, directly, if you want to know, are they part of the trust project, they would show a trust, a logo that has a T mark. It’s our logo. And that means they’ve gone through the whole process of applying, of vetting, we do training. So we do a whole series, like months of training to help the site not only put these on their pages, but kind of lift up their practices to meet the requirements.


Eric Schurenberg (25:41.995)



Sally Lehrman (25:57.028)

And then they can put that Trustmark logo on their pages. It would be in video. You can hear it in the audio. But not all sites, I mean, clearly there’s thousands of new sites, what more than that, hundreds of thousands. So how do you know they’re not all part of the Trust Project? How would you know? You can still apply the eight trust indicators. You can still look, well, what kind of information are they providing about each journalist? Is there even a byline there? And if there’s not a byline, like a signature on the story, then can I look and see?


Eric Schurenberg (26:03.37)



Eric Schurenberg (26:15.811)



Sally Lehrman (26:27.38)

what that means. Are they explaining who their ownership is? How they’re funded? Do they explain the difference or the separation between funding sources and the information they provide? Is there a clearly explained wall between those two? Do they separate news from opinion, or does it all seem to be blended together? One of the most important is just who is behind this information and looking for disclosures around that. And I will say, unfortunately, it’s become a bit harder because some of these, which was faux news sites with mal-intent have become aware of the trust indicators. They’ve become aware of other initiatives like trusting news that are trying to raise awareness within newsrooms around building trust. And they…


Eric Schurenberg (27:12.614)



Sally Lehrman (27:25.448)

they present themselves with some of this information, but it may not be fully described. Or the best possible cases are when they actually are quite honest about it. So we had a site applied to the Trust Project years ago, and they said, oh, we apply all the trust indicators, and we look and review them, and we could see, well, one, they don’t really, hyper partisan and also very religious in every aspect of their publication. Like that was the perspective that they brought to every kind of story. And so in a conversation with them, I said, well, one, you can bring a perspective to the work you do, but you have to separate your opinion from your news stories. And in their case, it really was all opinion stories because they brought this very deep perspective. And that’s fine, that’s their perspective, but they need to disclose it. And so what they’ve done, they did not become a part of the Trust Project, but what they’ve done is on their best practice, they have a page and they don’t have all of our best practice, but they do say, we cover the news from a very conservative Christian perspective. And so I consider that a win. Now, anybody that goes to that page will know.


Eric Schurenberg (28:45.867)



Sally Lehrman (28:50.92)

that that’s what they’re getting and maybe they want that and maybe they don’t. And that’s the beauty of the trust indicators is they’re meant to help the public make that decision, not me and not you or some other entity, but and they give the public the tools to assess based on their own criteria wants and needs, is this something that an organization that I feel is trustworthy? And again, it’s based on the fundamentals of trustworthy news and that’s what we’re promoting and clarifying for folks. But you can still use these trust indicators to evaluate really any kind of information.


Eric Schurenberg (29:35.562)

There are other organizations that like yours aim to highlight organizations that follow best practices in journalism, but their target is not necessarily, their primary target anyway, it’s not necessarily news consumers, but advertisers. And the logic is that by steering advertising dollars to the highest integrity, newsrooms, they are promoting high integrity journalism. Is that part of the model at the Trust Project?


Sally Lehrman (30:12.188)

Yeah, yeah, it is part of the Trust Project idea. And I don’t, I actually don’t know anybody that does quite, any organization that does quite what we do because there are entities that, that have created advertising marketplaces, but it’s not really for just trustworthy news, it’s for any member of their association. And to be fair, there is kind of a fundamental bar there hurdle that says,


You have to meet this bar in order to become part of our organization, but it’s nothing like the level of attention to trustworthiness that we Develop now that said I think what they’re doing is good and fine and very important What we do and what we’re do we are developing our own advertising? work engaging with programmatic and other advertising entities like agencies To enable them to have access to this very highly trustworthy set of organizations. And I think any advertiser would do well to use more than one of these services, to use many of them. Because it is such a danger, there’s so much disinformation out there that they can really triangulate among them all and get what they need. And in terms of the public, we know the trust indicators are effective. It’s been really interesting to do a number of studies, or work with external parties to do them and see how they really do elevate trust in the news or in the site, the journalist. And now in a more recent study, we did advertisements promoting the trust indicators and just simple things like trustworthy news separates news from opinion, for example. And then it will link to our website and a page where you can learn the trust indicators.


Well, and that study was done with University of Washington’s Center for Informed Public, RTDNA, the radio and television group, and digital news group, and also a social, what is it, kind of a leadership accelerator. And Microsoft provided the ad space. And what we found was that we gained, we got people who went through the process,


Eric Schurenberg (32:07.914)



Sally Lehrman (32:38.056)

60% of them said they felt more confident in their own ability to assess the news. So that’s what we want. And that was an amazing number, 60%. So if we can keep doing that and kind of going back to your question, if people will use these trust indicators, then they themselves can gain that kind of confidence. And they can go to our website, they’re listed on, there’s a tab called Trust Indicators on the


Eric Schurenberg (33:05.563)

Can I go back to this one experiment that you tried? So Microsoft paid for ad space on the news sites where the news sites would talk about their practices and link to the Trust Project’s page on say, some of the best practices. Did I understand that correctly?


Sally Lehrman (33:22.756)

No, that yeah, I’ve probably said that a little too quickly. And that’s a that’s actually a great idea, Eric. I think we will suggest that. But what was the other way around? So we developed ads. So the collaborative.


Sally Lehrman (33:37.204)

we developed ads that just gave information about these three of the trust indicators. And then Microsoft ran them on pages on Outlook and Start. And so then you would see them as you, I guess when you go onto your email or start up your Microsoft pages, then you would see these. And that’s when people could click through to our page. So it wasn’t on our news sites. Although our news sites do


Eric Schurenberg (33:51.206)

Ah, OK. OK, good.


Eric Schurenberg (33:57.471)



Eric Schurenberg (34:03.633)



Sally Lehrman (34:06.804)

often a number of things to promote the trust indicators. We’re always encouraging that, especially now with the elections around the world coming up really important ones, including the US and Israel. Hamas conflict is ever so important for people to have access to trustworthy news and to be able to assess it for what it is.


Eric Schurenberg (34:30.25)

That is a good segue to talk about current events. The Israel-Hamas war, it seems to me, in my experience, has been particularly divisive, and news audiences seem to be particularly dissatisfied with the coverage. Some feel that… mainstream media spends too much time worrying about civilians being bombed in Gaza and not enough on the terrorist attack on October 7th, and others feel like the coverage is too pro-Israel and too unquestionably aligned with American foreign policy. Asking it, possibly putting you on the spot here, but how would you rate the mainstream media’s coverage of the conflict from your perspective?


Sally Lehrman (35:17.828)

Yeah, I think I do observe that and really try to assess how it’s going. And I think you’d have to do a really careful content analysis to know if it’s landing too much on one side or the other side. I do feel like I know the New York Times got a lot of criticism early on for being too pro-Israel. And I think it had a lot to do with just scrambling to catch up with the moment and because they corrected for that within a few days. And now depending on your perspective on that issue, you are going to probably be unhappy with coverage because it is such a deeply felt issue at every level. I think everyone, partly because of our own identities or because of our history.


Eric Schurenberg (35:50.539)



Sally Lehrman (36:13.696)

in this country, I assume your audience is primarily American, we do have beliefs and assumptions that have built up over generations. And so it’s very hard to


Sally Lehrman (36:32.156)

to assess what really is going on. And I think journalists are having that same challenge. So they, as we’ve talked about before, they have a professional responsibility to really seek to understand the various perspectives and provide those to the public. And it’s our responsibility now switching to the public side, public responsibility to hold them accountable. So I think there’s nothing wrong with calling or writing either a major paper like the New York Times or local or regional side or whoever you’re listening to or watching and asking for different kind of coverage and assessing it. I myself don’t feel competent to be able to say, well, news sites are doing it beautifully or doing it awfully. I think that we we’re all trying to make our way through this crisis and it’s just really important to move.


Look for news from as many perspectives, or not even perspectives, yes perspectives, but sources as possible. So don’t rely on one single source of news in this situation, but look across multiple sources of information. Some are gonna be closer and have more access to certain perspectives. And then also apply the trust indicators to try to assess, well, where is this information coming from?


Sally Lehrman (37:51.632)

and who is behind it because we’re far worse than any kind of problems with news coverage is the problem with disinformation that there are state actors, there are individual and also organizations that are taking advantage of this moment and trying to pit people against one another by putting out false information and even in false photos, audio, you name it and this is the real


Eric Schurenberg (38:21.918)

Mm-hmm. Let’s talk about disinformation, about malignant actors. Is there a way to judge how much of what’s happening in the information environment is coming from those sources as opposed to more legitimate or, for the lack of it, for lack of a better word, mainstream journalism or simply… misinformation, which as you described earlier on in this conversation, is inadvertent spreading of falsehood.


Sally Lehrman (38:59.768)

Yeah, so there are entities that measure that. And they measure it by following it closely. We don’t do that. I do know that there has been a surge based on what I’ve read from these organizations. And the tech platforms also try to assess it in their efforts to tamp it down. So, but what we do know is that it has been increasing in the United States and elsewhere, partly because of the Israel Hamas conflict, but also because of elections. And we know that it’s very dangerous because it, not just because people will be getting misinformation or disinformation, which in itself is bad, but a lot of it is designed to activate the worst, the worst in us. So, you know, I live in an area where we had mass killings just a little over a year ago. And while it wasn’t a direct response to anything, any bit of misinformation or disinformation, I feel that this information cultivates an environment of hostility and hair trigger responses, and even a feeling that it’s okay to hate one another and act on that hate.


Eric Schurenberg (40:04.302)



Sally Lehrman (40:25.188)

And that’s what we really need to guard against.


Eric Schurenberg (40:31.371)

Mm-hmm. Media literacy training is now in school systems in, I think, more than a dozen states. 18 states, I think, is the number that comes to my mind with varying degrees of commitment. How effective is…


media literacy training, so how to how to you think critically about the news you consume in schools. And do you see that as generationally anyway, a solution to the to the problem that we’re talking about?


Sally Lehrman (40:56.625)



Sally Lehrman (41:05.936)

Well, absolutely. I think media literacy is really important. I kind of hate that term because it sounds like it’s a little bit demeaning. Or really what we want to do is invite people into the trust relationship with us and be part of the cycle of journalism. Because the public should be, like we are writing and producing information for the public, not just to consume, but to engage with us. And to also help


Eric Schurenberg (41:23.723)



Sally Lehrman (41:35.516)

guide us in terms of the topics we should be covering and what matters to them. So we all use media literacy for lack of a better term. But yes, I think that it’s helpful to have it start in schools. I wouldn’t stop there. As I said, we found like we have this incredible increase in confidence through this ad campaign that we did. And I think we should do more of that. Like every news organization.


should be talking about how they gather the news, why it matters, what are the principles and processes behind the work we do, and how do we ensure that we are acting with integrity and in the public interest. The other thing that might be interesting to your audience is that we always do these user-centered design studies, and we started, as I mentioned, early on, and we’ve continued to do that. And we did a set of studies during the pandemic and went out again and asked those same questions about how do you decide whether to trust the news? What do you value in it? And what we found was, and the other question has to do with how often do you engage? And we found that people were far more engaged with the news than they had been in the first round. Like in the first round we found yes there were people that were avid that were checking and cross-checking the news, but there also were folks who did it less often or maybe even just on occasion.


Every single group was doing it more. What we also found that was that there was a lot of anxiety around the news. So anxiety about the content, which we see right now, like sometimes it’s hard for even for me to engage with the news because it’s depressing and upsetting. And then there was anxiety around missing disinformation. So a fear that we are accidentally going to


Eric Schurenberg (43:14.635)



Sally Lehrman (43:25.244)

believe disinformation or share it or misinformation. And so we found this most among the people who were kind of at middle levels of engagement and we call that the anxious middle. And that is the group that I feel really can benefit from tools like the trust indicators and which can also be used as a media literacy tool. So how do I assess the news literacy project, they started working only with young people. Now they’re starting to work with adults too. So I think that’s where we need to go is build this awareness across all ages and get people talking with one another too. Like we are all, my vision is that we are all part of the news. I don’t mean industry in the sense of a business, but the cycle of news, if you will, but we each have a role to play as a news gatherer, a journalist, as a source, the person providing the information, as the person paying attention to it. And as the person paying attention to it, there is a responsibility, as I said earlier, to hold journalism accountable, but also to hold ourselves accountable and to talk about it with one another so that we’re engaging with information that can really help us be.


part of the society that we all hope to make better. And this is the kind of thing that we heard in our interviews that journalism is important to me, people would say, because it helps me understand when other people and it helps me make my community better. And the best way to have journalism provide you that kind of service is to be part of the equation and not just let it wash over you or, I mean, it’s how fine to criticize it but to really be attentive to where it’s coming from and participating in thinking about it and engaging with it.


Eric Schurenberg (45:32.338)

Sally, that’s a great place to leave this conversation. The idea that everyone, the audience, not just the journalists, are part of the news cycle. And it also reflects, I think, an era in which citizen journalism is a thing and also the ability to spread.


Information through social media is now just an irrefutable part of the information environment. So that is good. All of us are responsible for creating a healthy information environment. Sally, this was a great conversation. Thank you for making the time. And thank you for the work you’re doing on the Trust Project.


Sally Lehrman (46:17.905)



Well, thank you, Eric. Thank you so much for your great questions and the discussion, and I hope the audience found it interesting, and we’ll again be part of that cycle, and including the Trust Project. So let us know if you feel we’re doing things that we could do better. It’s again, it’s the


Eric Schurenberg (46:39.607)

All right. Thank you, Sally.


Sally Lehrman (46:39.88)

Thank you. Thanks a lot, Eric.

Created & produced by: Podcast Partners / Published: Nov 22 2023

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