Trust depends on the details

“When they notice something sloppy, they tell you so, publicly. And when pollsters come around to ask whether mainstream, nonpartisan journalism is trustworthy, they tell them, too.”

I worked with a newspaper editor earlier in my career, a lovely person who occasionally caused me to sigh deeply. I would work for days or weeks on a story, getting every fact confirmed. Just when I seemingly had reached the home stretch, I’d draw her in the editor pool and the tortuous process would begin.

elizabeth-jensenDid I really mean this word? Or would another word be more precise? Had I considered this nuance? Could I please rewrite this thought to make sure there was no doubt in what I was trying to say? Over and over the copy we’d go, with deadline looming, every sentence seemingly requiring an answer to one of her queries. In my mind, I was focused on the big picture and the work she wanted me to do felt nitpicky.

In the 20 years since, my editor’s kind of careful attention to detail has slowly become less prevalent in daily (can we use that phrase anymore?) journalism. Real-time reporting drives much of our business now: the scoop, the hot take, the analysis, and the next-day speculation. Who has time to parse words in between reporting and tweeting and Facebook Live-ing?

Actually, listeners and readers and viewers do. They are paying attention, perhaps closer attention than ever before to the journalism we are all working as such fast pace to produce. Yes, many news consumers just read the headlines. But they are parsing every word in them, too. When they notice something sloppy, they tell you so, publicly. And when pollsters come around to ask whether mainstream, nonpartisan journalism is trustworthy, they tell them, too.

“Denier” vs. “skeptic.” “Lie” vs. “unfounded.” “Alt-Right” v. “white nationalist.” I sometimes tire of today’s finger-pointing over language and the focus on the labels, which can detract from the big picture, the underlying facts and nuance that will help us, the news consumers, understand the full scope of a story. And yet, those nitpicky words are really at the heart of what the audience wants: precise journalism where every detail has been carefully thought through and held up to a standard.

It’s not terribly sexy, but I hope 2017 is the year when journalism, as it seeks to rebuild trust with some in the audience, puts a renewed emphasis on the fundamentals, despite all the time pressures. When facts will be double-checked. When deep reporting (and openness to new narratives) will wrest back some of the prominence placed on analysis. When news analysts will “show their work,” explaining how they came to their conclusions. When needed corrections will be posted quickly and prominently. When ethics policies and internal standards will be adhered to in every story and interview. When transparency will flourish. And yes, when each and every word will be parsed, as painful as that process might be.

Elizabeth Jensen is NPR’s ombudsman.

Andy Rossback   The year of the user

Guy Raz   Inspiration and hope will matter more than ever

Tim Griggs   The year we stop taking sides

Peter Sterne   A dangerous anti-press mix

Caitlin Thompson   High touch, high value

Katie Zhu   The year of minority media

Jon Slade   Trusted news, at a premium

Pablo Boczkowski   Fake news and the future of journalism

Asma Khalid   The year of the newsy podcast

Dannagal G. Young   The return of the gatekeepers

Rachel Sklar   Women are going to get loud

Steve Henn   The next revolution is voice

Jonathan Hunt   Measurement companies get with the times

Amy O'Leary   Not just covering communities, reaching them

Moreno Cruz Osório   The year of transparency in Brazilian journalism

David Skok   What lies beyond paywalls

Priya Ganapati   Mobile websites are ready for reinvention

David Chavern   Fake news gets solved

Ernst-Jan Pfauth   Earn trust by working for (and with) readers

Umbreen Bhatti   A sense of journalists’ humanity

M. Scott Havens   Quality advertising to pair with quality content

Erin Millar   The bottom falls out of Canadian media

Alice Antheaume   A new test for French media

Scott Dodd   Nonprofits team up for impact

Christopher Meighan   Unlocking a deeper mobile experience

Megan H. Chan   Cultural reporting goes mainstream

Joanne Lipman   The year of the drone, really

Mary Meehan   Feeling blue in a red state

Matt Karolian   AI improves publishing

Almar Latour   Thanks, #fakenews

Hillary Frey   Forests need to burn to regrow

Swati Sharma   Failing diversity is failing journalism

Jeremy Barr   A terrible year for Tiers B through D

Erin Pettigrew   A year of reflection in tech

Olivia Ma   The year collaboration beats competition

Sara M. Watson   There is no neutral interface

Lam Thuy Vo   The primary source in the age of mechanical multiplication

Mike Ragsdale   A smarter information diet

Corey Ford   The year of the rebelpreneur

Nicholas Quah   Podcasting’s coming class war

Emily Goligoski   Incorporating audience feedback at scale

Tressie McMillan Cottom   A path through the media’s coming legitimacy crisis

Sarah Wolozin   Virtual reality on the open web

Robert Hernandez   History will exclude you, again

Vivian Schiller   Tested like never before

Coleen O'Lear   Back to basics

Tracie Powell   Building reader relationships

Keren Goldshlager   Defining a focus, and then saying no

Bill Keller   A healthy skepticism about data

Rachel Schallom   Stop flying over the flyover states

Melody Kramer   Radically rethinking design

Amy Webb   Journalism as a service

Rebekah Monson   Journalism is community-as-a-service

Zizi Papacharissi   Distracted journalism looks in the mirror

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen   News after advertising may look like news before advertising

Sam Ford   The year we talk about our awful metrics

Juliette De Maeyer and Dominique Trudel   A rebirth of populist journalism

Francesco Marconi   The year of augmented writing

Matt Waite   The people running the media are the problem

Margarita Noriega   From pinning tweets to tweeting pins

Andrew Haeg   The year of listening

Julia Beizer   Building a coherent core identity

Reyhan Harmanci   Bear witness — but then what?

Dan Colarusso   Let’s make live video we can love

Bill Adair   The year of the fact-checking bot

P. Kim Bui   The year journalism teaches again

Sydette Harry   Facing journalism’s history

Juan Luis Sánchez   Your predictions are our present

Ray Soto   VR moves from experiments to immersion

Jonathan Stray   A boom in responsible conservative media

Mary Walter-Brown   Getting comfortable asking for money

Richard J. Tofel   The country doesn’t trust us — but they do believe us

Nushin Rashidian   A rise in high-price, high-value subscriptions

Tanya Cordrey   The resurgence of reach

David Weigel   A test for online speech

Tim Herrera   The safe space of service journalism

Ole Reißmann   Un-faking the news

Samantha Barry   Messaging apps go mainstream

Nathalie Malinarich   Making it easy

Andrew Ramsammy   Rise of the rebel journalist

Valérie Bélair-Gagnon   Truthiness in private spaces

Ståle Grut   The battle for high-quality VR

Doris Truong   Connecting with diverse perspectives

Jim Friedlich   A banner year for venture philanthropy

Dan Gillmor   Fix the demand side of news too

Laura Walker   Authentic voices, not fake news

Sarah Marshall   Focusing on the why of the click

Burt Herman   Local news gets interesting

Liz McMillen   The year of deep insights

Claire Wardle   Verification takes center stage

Libby Bawcombe   Kids board the podcast train

Errin Haines Whack   Chaos or community?

Taylor Lorenz   “Selfie journalism” becomes a thing

Michael Kuntz   Trust is the new click

Trushar Barot   API or die

Emi Kolawole   From empathy to community

Gabriel Snyder   The aberration of 20th-century journalism

Felix Salmon   Headlines matter

Cory Haik   Navigating power in Trump’s America

Andrea Silenzi   Podcasts dive into breaking news analysis

Alberto Cairo   Communicating uncertainty to our readers

Andrew Losowsky   Building our own communities

Aja Bogdanoff   Comments start pulling their weight

Laura E. Davis   Show your work

Anita Zielina   The sales funnel reaches (and changes) the newsroom

Mira Lowe   News literacy, bias, and “Hamilton”

Dhiya Kuriakose   The year of digital detoxing

Maria Bustillos   “It’s true — I saw it on Facebook”

Ryan McCarthy   Platforms grow up or grow more toxic

Ashley C. Woods   Local journalism will fight a new fight

Rubina Madan Fillion   Snapchat grows up

Eric Nuzum   Podcasting stratifies into hard layers

Alexis Lloyd   Public trust for private realities

Ken Schwencke   Disaggregation and collection

Mark Armstrong   Time to pay up

Kawandeep Virdee   Moving deeper than the machine of clicks

Helen Havlak   Chasing mobile search results

Amie Ferris-Rotman   Вслед за Россией

Geetika Rudra   Journalism is community

Javaun Moradi   What can we own?

Millie Tran   International expansion without colonial overtones

An Xiao Mina   2017 is for the attention innovators

Renée Kaplan   Pure reach has reached its limit

Liz Danzico   The triumph of the small

Molly de Aguiar   Philanthropists galvanize around news

Mario García   Virtual reality on mobile leaps forward

Kathleen Kingsbury   Print as a premium offering

Michael Oreskes   Reversing the erosion of democracy

Mathew Ingram   The Faustian Facebook dance continues

Annemarie Dooling   UGC as a path out of the bubble

Adam Thomas   The coming collaboration across Europe

S.P. Sullivan   Baking transparency into our routines

Ariane Bernard   Better data about your users

Elizabeth Jensen   Trust depends on the details

Cindy Royal   Preparing the digital educator-scholar hybrid

Mandy Velez   The audience is the source and the story

Carla Zanoni   Prioritizing emotional health

Sue Schardt   Objectivity, fairness, balance, and love

Carrie Brown-Smith   We won’t do enough

Lee Glendinning   A call for great editing