Tuesday, July 9, 2024
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Sally Lehrman, of The Trust Project, on building a more trusted and trustworthy press

Sally Lehrman is a distinguished journalist who is also the founder of The Trust Project, an organization whose mission is to “amplify journalism’s commitment to transparency, accuracy, inclusion and fairness so that the public can make informed news choices.” This mission is important today as trust in media organizations has cratered, even as a tsunami of misinformation and disinformation threatens to mislead and misinform the public.

As The Trust Project website explains, “Misinformation isn’t necessarily intentional – it could be rumor or poorly researched claims. Disinformation is deliberately misleading. We address both by helping people get more access to the real thing — journalism with integrity — and know when they’re looking at it. Our news partners provide the Trust Indicators so people can make informed decisions about the news they decide to read and share. The indicators provide transparency around features that people have said matter to them, and that clearly distinguish trustworthy news from all the other kinds of information out there.”

I wanted to catch up with Sally to discuss what her organization is doing these days and chat about the issues referenced above, plus get her insights into how trust and trustworthiness is likely to fare as AI systems, which can produce misinformation and disinformation at an industrial scale, become more ubiquitous. We cover a lot of ground in our interview; topics include:

  • How Sally was able to secure funding for user-centered design research to understand why people trust or distrust the news, leading to the development of trust indicators.
  • The importance of trust in journalism and the need for transparency in the media.
  • How too many news outlets have continued to prioritize clickbait headlines and sensational content, which has contributed to the decline of trust in the media.
  • The blurring of lines between news and opinion and the importance of distinguishing them through labeling.
  • The continuing importance of supporting local news sources, given that they cover important issues relevant to local constituencies.
  • How technology platforms, intentionally or not, limit the diversity of news sources visible to users, leading to a narrow understanding of the world.
  • The fact that advertisers are often fearful of supporting news content due to brand safety issues, adding an additional headwind to the publishing industry’s ability to report on important stories.
  • Why it would be more honest to label “sponsored content” as “paid content.”
  • The four different types of news consumers (Avid, Engaged, Opportunistic, and Angry Disengaged).
  • The importance of transparency in influencer marketing and the need for authenticity in labeling.
  • The importance of transparency in sponsored content, urging brands to use accurate language and provide clear attribution.
  • The changing dynamics of authorship in journalism, where individual journalists are gaining more power and influence outside of traditional media organizations.
  • The critical role played by user education equipping users with tools to evaluate the credibility of online information.
  • How brands and advertisers can help by incorporating fact-checking into their advertising and training employees on trust indicators.


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