For the Record

Dean Wright on Ethics, Innovation and Values

Audience and media: Can this marriage be saved?


dean-150Dean Wright is Global Editor, Ethics, Innovation and News Standards. Any opinions are his own.

Reuters recently hosted a panel at our New York headquarters called “Audience and the Media: A Shaky Marriage.” I was on the panel with a distinguished group: Lisa Shepard, ombudsman of National Public Radio; Andrew Alexander, ombudsman of The Washington Post; and Michael Oreskes, senior managing editor of The Associated Press. Jack Shafer, editor-at-large of Slate, was the moderator.

The key question we explored was: “How can mainstream news organizations retain (or regain) their audiences’ trust in a skeptical world where almost anyone with an Internet connection can be a publisher?” It will come as no surprise that we did not answer the question definitively in the 75 minutes we were on stage. However, a number of questions–some quite troubling–were raised. Rather than attempt to summarize all the points raised and positions taken by the panelists and the audience, I’ll explore some of the questions raised in my mind.

–Why do people mistrust the media and whose fault is it?

Much of the fault lies with the mainstream media. For far too many years, news organizations had an arrogant, one-way relationship with our audiences. We gathered news, packaged it in ways we thought made sense and shoveled it out to our audiences. If you liked what we delivered, fine. If not, well, you could always write a letter to the editor of the newspaper where you saw the story. Now I think the balance is much better. Feedback is instantaneous, transparency is the norm and our readers can also be publishers on their own.