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“After several years of listening to journalism’s sages talk about how important it is that we more explicitly explain our processes, we’re finally going to get serious about doing just that.”

Media trust flows partly from transparency — or so the thinking goes. This coming year will be a good one to test that theory, as news organizations dramatically ramp up their efforts to be more open about how they do what they do, and invest energy in transparency’s broader corollary, news literacy.

Trustworthy news organizations follow pretty similar ethics codes. They clearly identify the sources of their information, to the extent possible. They make timely and prominent corrections; they disclose any conflicts of interest, and they tell people who funds their work.

We’ve been assuming all along that most of our listeners and readers and viewers are aware of the best practices that underpin our work. But this past year, it became increasingly apparent that they aren’t, and they are susceptible to counter-arguments designed to discredit us. So in 2018, after several years of listening to journalism’s sages talk about how important it is that we more explicitly explain our processes, we’re finally going to get serious about doing just that.

These actions may be as straightforward as putting a bug on our work to quickly signal our values to news consumers. Or as elaborate as a six-minute video explaining how a big story came about. Audiences are yearning for this information: Last June, nearly 900 people turned out one evening to hear Colorado Public Radio and NPR journalists talk about media ethics and debate how newsroom decisions are made.

Attitudes change slowly. Trust in media has finally started ticking up, ever so slightly, after years of decline. But views on the subject remain politically polarized. These efforts may go the way fact-checking did this year, and quickly get politicized — and made politically suspect — by some with a vested interest in seeing our institutions fail. But whether or not the polls immediately reward our efforts, what choice is there for journalists who, in the end, just want to report honestly and have their work believed? Add it to the job description; this work is necessary, too.

Elizabeth Jensen is the ombudsman/public editor of NPR.

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