Thursday, December 30, 2010

How Can Journalism Regain Public Trust?

The following presentation was made at the MediaTenor Agenda-Setting Conference in Rappersvil, Switzerland in October 2010.

Good morning! I’m Alisa Miller, President and CEO of PRI, Public Radio International. PRI is best known as a creator and distributor of radio content in the United States.

But we are really an organization that creates news and storytelling content to help people successfully navigate our interconnected world. We recognize that it is imperative that people understand the rich diversity of our world in order to create a vibrant global society. Since 1983, we have provided different perspectives to ensure that our listeners had context for interpreting the news and making decisions. We are a leading provider of global news in broadcasting in the USA.

We work in close partnership with the BBC World Service, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and 19 other US-based production partners. Our content is heard by 13 million people each week on over 880 public radio stations in the US, on Radio One in Canada, and right here on World Radio Switzerland. If you aren’t in the US, Canada or Switzerland, you can stream our content at pri dot org, download our podcasts or listen through our iPhone app.

We all know that fair, quality journalism feeds people’s ability to make good choices in their lives.

It lays the groundwork for action and potential for change.

In our 27 year history, PRI has experienced a number of challenges and opportunities as media consumption changed, audiences’ needs evolved and new technologies were introduced. And now, like all of you, we are in an extraordinary environment that, every day, encourages us to think about how we can better serve audiences. Now, I’d like to talk about the environment in which we work, why journalism is more important than ever, and ways in which we can remain relevant as the world changes.

As we all know, today’s media world can be discouraging. The unprecedented global recession applies budget pressures that have resulted in many for-profit media organizations, especially print publications, to fail; even organizations as prominent and established as the BBC are looking for new ways to do more with less. We also see an erosion of trust in the news media overall.

For the fourth straight year, the majority of Americans say they have little or no trust in the mass media to report the news fully, accurately, and fairly. The 57% who now say this is a record high by one percentage point.[1]

On top of economic challenges, our consumers’ attitudes and expectations are changing. News users over 35 expect media to deliver the news from a position of authority; younger news users question that level of authority. According to a global survey of 18-35 year olds by the AP [2], and research by Christopher Sopher and his blog "Younger Thinking." cited by the Neiman Journalism lab at Harvard, younger news consumers want context for what is happening but may not see a consistent connection between regularly “getting the news” and staying informed about the issues that interest them.[3]

Advances in technology present another challenge: even as our traditional media is under pressure, we have to find a way to participate in all sorts of new distribution mechanisms: web-sites, podcasts, iPhones, iPads, mobile… it seems there is a new platform launched almost every day.

These challenges are also the silver lining: our audiences DO want to know what is going on in the world around them. They are hungry for news. They want to be ACTIVE news users, and they have to technology to do so. What a great opportunity!

First, let’s look at the demand for journalism:

A recent Pew report shows that Americans follow news most of the time. In fact, the demand for news according to a recent Pew study is at least in the U-S is the highest it has been in the last Decade [5].

And finally, there is a growing contingent such as bloggers which is eager to create reports or POV content.

A recent report in the Wall Street Journal says more Americans are now making their primary income from posting blogs online than those who work as firefighters or computer programmers.

They have the ability to spread the word or be eye-witnesses to the news that is happening in their communities as we could see during the Iranian Elections and the Haiti Disaster.

And 30-somethings around the world are consuming media 24.7. This graphic shows a day in the life in terms of the 30-something demo; It tells us when they want what, and why. You can see they use all kinds of media throughout the day to satisfy specific and different needs that change. The user moves from wanting information to building understanding. Note how the evenings provide a unique opportunity for multi-platform consumption – at the same time.

The way users consume news is changing, but the desire to be informed and to know what is happening in the world is not going away.

As a group, the next generation is more diverse and savvy technologically; their needs and demands as news consumers differ from previous generations.[6]

These listeners expect news on-demand, as well as the option to discuss or even shape the content of the news itself. They have preferences to share and comment and engage at higher percentages.[7]

Technology makes it easier for people to contribute to and consume news content. As users move from dial-up internet access (typical in America up until the beginning of this century) to broadband connections to integrated networked media, the content we create will be more and more accessible. Our media will be more driven by handheld devices and wireless networks. The challenge and the opportunity for our industry will be to figure out how to use this networked world to advance public service.

This strong demand for news is encouraging, for it means that in the face of economic stress, people value journalism. Unfortunately, in the face of this demand, journalism is not meeting our users’ expectations. For example, US commercial television networks have cut the number of foreign bureaus by over 50%.

The result, aside from one-person mini ABC bureaus in Nairobi, New Delhi, Rio, and Mumbai there are no network bureaus left in all of Africa, India or South America — places that are home to more than 2 billion people.

And with respect to the web – that vehicle that the younger demographic relies on – the most popular news sites don’t do much better. Pew and the Columbia Journalism School analyzed 14,000 stories that appeared on Google News’ front page in one day. These stories were essentially covering the same 24 news events, creating merely an echo chamber which implies abundance but does not deliver. [8]

Similarly, a study featured in EContent showed that much of global news available from U.S. news creators is recycled stories from the wire services and presented without a U.S. context

Finally, a number of topics that really matter when it comes to how our society works and functions – education, science, the environment, race & ethnicity, women & children – often represent less than 5% of the total news output combined.

This shrinking supply of comprehensive news journalism imperils our society, and our inability to meet audiences needs inhibit the level of trust between us. On a daily basis, we see an increase in the polarization of where people go for news, perhaps indicating a decreased desire to deeply understand our fellow citizens.

In the U-S, as Pew recently found, ideology continues to be closely associated with people’s choice of certain news sources. Eight-in-ten Americans (80%) who regularly listen to Rush Limbaugh or watch Sean Hannity are conservative – roughly twice the national average of 36%. And at the other end of the spectrum, the New York Times, Keith Olbermann, the Daily Show, the Colbert Report and Rachel Maddow have regular audiences that include nearly twice the proportion of liberals than in the public.[9]

Many recognize this increasing polarization as a problem, and are working at an individual or organizational level to further understanding and compassion. As journalists, we have the ability, because of our reach and our historic role in society, to address this problem, by reaching out and engaging people across the spectrum.

So, this is the crossroad which offers incredible opportunity for success: Demand is great, but media organizations are struggling to meet that demand. The increasing intolerance for different points of view requires action. Technology offers new ways to reach more people and encourage understanding. How do we take advantage of this convergence? I’d like to share some ideas for how journalism can succeed in this new landscape.

First, we must re-establish trust with our existing audiences, and build it with new audiences by listening more and talking less.

At the heart of journalism’s ability to give audiences the information they need to make informed choices about their societies is a level of trust. Unfortunately, this trust is not as strong as it has previously been, in part because of failures in journalism as mentioned above, and because of changing audience expectations. We have the ability to rebuild this trust by reaching out to better understand our audiences and make them a participant in our end product.

At PRI, we have been turning outward to the communities we serve to learn more about the topics they deem relevant, and to understand more about their needs. This customer focus led us to create content that has attracted new audiences and expanded our reach. For example, in the early ‘90’s, PRI did research and found that Americans were hungry for international news, but the only international news they could find was lacking: it didn’t connect the dots between what happened abroad and what was happening in their communities. So PRI created, in partnership with the BBC World Service and WGBH Radio Boston, “PRI’s The World,” broadcasting’s only daily international news program that helps Americans understand how they affect and are affected by global events. “The World” is now heard by over 2.6 million people each week.

More recently, four years ago we conducted research among younger and ethnically diverse populations to learn why they didn’t consume public radio’s news content. They told us that the style was too formal, and that it was too academic. They wanted to know about the economy, the war, immigration policy and all the other news we typically cover, but they wanted it presented in a way that let them to connect to the story by offering their perspective. Once again, we responded, and created a morning drive news program called The Takeaway. The Takeaway uses broadcast, a web-site and social media (including Facebook, Twitter and mobile texting) to get listener feedback on the news reported by our journalists, and creating a conversation about the news of the day that goes far beyond the broadcast. This approach is attracting new audiences – younger and more ethnically diverse – to the program, and spurring the kind of response that good journalism is known to do. We are also seeing other in the industry respond in the last six months, with their own research, that confirms our findings from four years ago and shows that our efforts have catalyzed others. [10]

Based on what we’re learning from The Takeaway, and as a result of new technologies that allow citizens to contribute to content creation, PRI is looking at ways of incorporating eye-witness accounts or crowd sourced fact finding and aggregation from listeners into our content. NOT as a replacement for the reporting from journalists, but as a new way to add context and relevance.

By responding to our consumers’ interests and concerns, we are beginning to re-establish trust. They recognize that we want to serve their needs for in-depth news reporting and that we want their perspectives to flesh out our reporting. As a result, they are more engaged with us, more active and consuming more of our content. We are more relevant to, and more trusted by, our audience.

We also need to deliver a more complete picture of the news that includes leveraging a news ecosystem that is far larger than our respective newsrooms.

As we know, resources to support the creation of journalism are under significant stress. One way to address these constraints AND improve the quality of our reporting is by reaching out to a diversity of contributors and working with other media organizations that bring a different perspective. For PRI – a national organization – that means looking to neighborhood, local and regional media organizations. By collaborating with each of them, we have access to more capacity and are able to show the broader picture of any community. And our local partners, at their best will also tap into national and international coverage from providers and help to provide LOCAL CONTEXT to these larger stories. We also will actively partner with peer organizations at a national and global level as we have proven that combined resources and best thinking leads to the best product -- almost every time.

We also need to challenge ourselves not to just go to the extremes in perspectives to tell the story from the left and/or right. This often leaves many trying to figure out what and who is the middle, which is another place where the facts and solutions could lie. This is counter culture to our coverage, particularly of policy.

We also need to be serious about embracing civic reporting as part of our quiver to report and provide context of the news. People who are in our audience can and should be engaged to help us create our product, more than just supplement it. This will foster trust and will allow us to focus our efforts on work that we alone can do. Where are the spaces where we can pursue unmet content needs and let others do the rest. We need to be asking ourselves these questions.

And we need to be providing tools that give people the opportunity to use the news and apply it to their lives. This will be the next wave providing relevance and breaking new ground in knowledge.

And we need to harness the power of both actual and virtual communities to connect people at a personal level to the news, new ideas and each other, wherever they may be. Through the power of code and algorithms and user engagement, we need to create spaces for people to personally find relevance and connect with each other around content.

For example do we even consider adjusting our approach and tone to new places, so as institutions, become members of those communities. For example, do you look at YouTube as a distribution outlet or a community in which your institution is a member, bringing your unique craft and perspectives. This difference how we see ourselves could dramatically change how people connect with your organization as a purveyor of knowledge and story telling.

Or do we actively provide tools that give people the ability to find personal relevance of stories for their lives? Is this an integrated part of our editorial process today? It needs to be.

As journalists, we provide information and context to help citizens make informed choices. Today, demand for our reporting is great… And so is the desire to identify issues of importance and engage with and contribute to traditional reporting. By listening to our audiences, we can re-build the trust needed to inform and support robust conversations about our world. This is our duty, and our opportunity. Let’s not fail to meet it.

Thank you.


[1] Distrust in US Media Edges Up to Record High, Gallop, September 2010.



[4] Key News Audiences Now Blend Online and Traditional Sources", Pew Center for the People and the Press, page 38 in the PDF.

[5] Pew Research Center June 8-28, 2010

[6] Audiences (18-34 year olds) increasingly rely on the Internet as a primary news source (“Abandoning The News,” Carnegie Reporter, Spring 2005).

[7] "Revealing the Digital News Experience -- For Young and Old". Nieman Lab, Harvard.

[8] The State of News Media 2009. Online content analysis.

[9]  "Americans Spending More Time Following the News- Ideological News Sources: Who Watches and Why", September 2010. Pew Center for People and the Press.

[10] "Study sees growth if NPR loosens up, sounds less elite." Published in Current, September 20, 2010.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Knight-Batten Award Winner, Sourcing Through Texting and Broadening the Conversation in Storytelling

Over the years, a great passion of mine has been the power of storytelling in media and how it can engage people. 

Recently, I have been particularly excited by how the momentum of social networking and mobile technology can/could change who is telling the story, to whom and who can be moved by it. And I have some exciting progress to report!

First a bit of background:

There is quite a bit of angst within some media circles that given trends in social media, and how quality journalism and storytelling is often practiced, that the American conversation on important topics (or any conversation bounded by a geographic or issue boundaries) doesn't become a medium of the elite, or speaking to the choirs, but a place where diverse people and points of view on the world can come together and enlighten us all in new ways.

Ethan Zuckerman in his recent TEDTalk at TED Global, points this problem out very eloquently, Listening to Global Voices

Now the progress:

Last fall, I began looking for a way to combine texting and content in public radio and reaching new users and listeners in new ways.

Lets be clear, I LOVE smart phones and apps a plenty (I have too many to count). 

But if we talk about how to really open the flood-gates to add people to the conversation, regardless of status in society, texting is a much more equalizing medium. Nearly 300 million US mobile phones have the ability to text. So how can we incorporate a texting component into our story telling and engagement process, that is more than just,"tell us if you like something or vote for this or that"? It was a creative challenge that I was really intrigued with tackling.

This is when I met Jed Alpert of Mobile Commons, a platform for mobile phones and texting. We got talking, and I was impressed with their work, which included working with content creators. But given PRI's role as innovator in content in public media and an organization that is built its operating model on partnership, I thought there could be ways that we could take this platform and take it to the next level, across PRI's programs, including The World and The Takeaway.

We entered into a deal with Global Commons earlier this spring. Most recently, our program The Takeaway (co produced with WNYC and in collaboration with The New York Times, the BBC World Service and WGBH Boston), developed a pilot to reach out and engage new people into public radio, build community, and tell stories not told before first in Detroit and then in Miami.

Detriot SMS might be mightier than the Sword (original story)
Little Haiti and Sourcing through Texting

And here are some blog posts written by Michael Skoler, PRI's VP of Interactive Media on both of these pilots:
The Takeaway seeks to engage diverse communities
PRI using media to create shade in Little Haiti in Miami

And here is a link to a video of a prototype idea we uncovered working together with the community in Miami. 
Texting Prototype 5

See more of these on PRI's YouTube Channel.

And it was just announced that our work received a Knight-Batten Award for Innovations in Journalism!

Sourcing Through Texting
The Takeaway, WNYC and Public Radio International, New York, N.Y.
Special Distinction Award

A team from The Takeaway radio show joined journalists from WDET Detroit in a successful experiment that prompted residents to text tips about particular stories from Mexicantown in Southwest Detroit.  Residents texted information about trucks illegally barreling down their side streets, and in another experiment, they sent keywords describing their neighborhoods.  The result: non-listeners became engaged and more informed.  The experiment has continued in Miami’s Little Haiti.
From the judges: “The experiment opened doors for engaging non-listeners in ways they liked.”

It is exciting to see how a small idea or hypothesis can come together fairly quickly and show  promising results and perhaps more importantly, expand our learning. We obviously have more work to do, but it is great to see that this new way of reaching out and building stories is gaining recognition.

We look forwarding to testing this further!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Leading GOP Conservative Cautions Supporters about Fox News

Perception of bias or not is often in the eyes of the beholder. I thought this recent comment by GOP Conservative Tom Colburn (R-OK) re the reporting of Fox News was of particular interest.

Top GOP Conservative Colburn Slams Fox News

What do you think of Fox Coverage, or others?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Tiger Woods, WikiLeaks and the killing of a Reuters photographer by US Forces

A picture can be a thousand words. I came across this compelling statistic. On Monday when WikiLeaks story/video on the killing of Reuters photographer by US forces in Iraq check out the comparison of coverage. Only 8 news stories appeared in Google News of the Reuters Photographer and there were 3389 article on Tiger Woods returning to the Master's Golf Tournament. See link for image of Google results.

Google News Shapshot

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Patrick Kennedy Rants re Afghanistan News Coverage

Did you see all the hubabaloo last week regarding Patrick Kennedy and his "rant" regarding the fact that the news media appeared obsessed with Former Representative Eric Massa and not with the House debate on the Afghanistan War?

I have thought a bit about this. And it is true, it is unlikely the resolution under debate would have had a chance of passing, so perhaps that was reason enough for the limited press presence.

As Kennedy yelled:
 ".... two press people in this gallery. We're talking about Eric Massa 24/7 on the TV. We're talking about war and peace — $3 billion, 1,000 lives, and no press! No press! ... It's despicable, the national press corps right now."
But if you step back, the important point is that our commercial media does seem, way too often, obsessed with the shiny objects like Tiger Woods, or Representative Massa's antics, and not important topics.

In fact, last week, according to the Pew Research Center's News Coverage Index, for the week of March 8-14th, the Massa story was the 5th most covered story of ALL news topics. And in terms of newsmakers (individuals in the news), Massa was only second to President Barack Obama.

PEJ News Coverage Index March 8-14, 2010

Did you also notice that it seemed that much of the cable media's commentary on Kennedy's comments seem to center on his RANT than actually address the SUBSTANCE of the criticism? As a friend of mine recently said, "Why wasn't a journalist from CNN interviewing the head of news of CNN on why they covered so much Massa.... on CNN?!"

DeWayne Wickham wrote a well-put Op Ed last week in USA Today on this topic, take a read here...

USA TODAY column "Kennedy has a point in his tirade over afghanistan coverage"

And of course, Steve Colbert also took a crack at the Massa-Afghanistan rant and he really nails it in the entertaining piece:


But don't take my word for it, or DeWayne Wickham's or even Steven Colbert's.... take the Pew Research Center Project for the Excellence in Journalism's word for it.

Each year Pew puts out a report on the state of journalism that scans thousands of sources and analyzes the content covered in American journalism. So I decided to go take a quick look and see what they found as it related to Afghanistan coverage over the last few years. So starting in 2007, followed by 2008 and 2009, how much press did Afghanistan actually get?

In the 2008 report (which looks at the 2007 news year), the State of Journalism had a section entitled, "A Limited Diet of Global News", and among facts it points out that the percentage of Afghanistan coverage was (0.9%).  And at the time, 2007 was "the deadliest for American forces in Afghanistan since that war began in 2001." For more see the Content Analysis in the report.

The 2009 report (which looks at the news year in 2008), the State of Journalism had a section entitled, "Other International News Drops Even More."

And it said:
Iraq was not the only important global story to be crowded out of the American news in 2008. Coverage of international affairs generally, whether it involved the U.S. or not, fell by more than 40%, to 17% of the newshole studied in 2008, compared with 29% in 2007. Combined coverage of Pakistan and Iran—two countries that present major strategic challenges to the U.S.—fell by almost two-thirds (dropping to 2% of the newshole studied in 2008)
Coverage of the other war in which U.S. troops were fighting—Afghanistan—remained at the same low level (1%) in 2008 as 2007, but it had already almost disappeared. That despite a 2008 American death toll that was the highest in the six-year history of that conflict and continuing signs that the fighting may escalate. (bold added)
For more see The 2009 Report.

And finally, what about the 2010 report (which looked at 2009 news year). It was a year when there was debate in Washington and around the country about what strategy we should take regarding the future of the War. What happened?  Well, coverage did increase, but given its importance.... does this seem like the right percentage to you?

Afghanistan received 4.6% of ALL coverage. Was all 95.4% of the coverage on other topics really more important than a war that has been going on since 2001? Whatever your view on the War itself, I think we can all agree that this topic is more important than the level of news coverage it is receiving in commercial media.

On this one, Patrick Kennedy had it right.

Friday, March 19, 2010

How many news organizations originally cover the news anymore... not many.

I wanted to call your attention to a very interesting piece of research regarding coverage of China that I recently came across. It is about the Google Hacking case and appears on the Neiman Journalism Lab website.

Jonathan Stray points out in "The Google/China hacking case: How many news outlets do the original reporting on a big story?" how little ORIGINAL reporting on this topic occured and it is a GREAT example of how the web can be an echo chamber. In other words, many may write or opine about a topic as part of the news/media ecosystem, but it oftentimes, it is a limited number of source "springs" that generates the core story and provides all the base of the activity. The analogy I like to make:

Its like holding junior high school dance, a Beyonce song is blarring, lights are strobing, and there are 100 boys all having to take turns dancing with the same girl. It might be fun, but perhaps a bit more variety and a bit more attendance could help the whole event work. 
All these iterations should not be confused with MORE journalism. It is MORE commenting and derivatives of the same story.

What is the impact of this lack of diverse voices and editorial POV? Potentially a lack of understanding or at its worst, fostering misunderstanding. If there is only a couple of organizations that are taking the time, or have the commitment to get to the story, it leads the public with limited options to figure out their own "truths", or they believe that they are getting multiple takes, and in fact they aren't. This only underscores the need for a continued focus on journalism innovation to fund and support original sources, that will give everyone else something to talk about and learn from. It also underscores the need for real time transparency to understand what is actually derivative of what in a holistic, and aggregated way.

As Stray says, "Out of the 121 distinct versions of last week’s story about tracing Google’s recent attackers to two schools in China, 13 (11 percent) included at least some original reporting. And just seven organizations (six percent) really got the full story independently."


For more please see the complete article.....

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Journalism for Sale to the Highest Bidder -- Get Out Your Checkbook

I wanted to call your attention to a column on the disturbing rise in "checkbook journalism." I hope this is a blip and not a trend, but unfortunately it may be the latter.

The Washington City Paper recently published an column by Dave McKenna on the subject. Inspired by the latest case when NBC News chartered a private jet for David Goldman to return with his son from Brazil after a long, drawn-out custody fight. NBC says this isn't checkbook journalism, because they technically did not pay for the story itself, but only paid thousands of dollars to charter a private plane and then got an exclusive or two... hmmmm, interesting logic.

Then he talks about the recent payments by ABC and CNN for photos from Jasper Schuringa, a passenger on the XMAS Day Northwest airlines flight where the passengers thwarted a bomb that happened to be located in the underwear of a would-be terrorist. Schuringa apparently gave his first interviews to the new organizations who bought his photos.

McKenna makes the point that "Checkbook journalism" is a term coined in the 70s, has been around in some form or another for some time. With that said, perhaps we are entering into some kind of resurgence of the practice, through tangential payment schemes.

It is important in terms of transparency that IF news organizations are doing this (which they shouldn't at all!), they should AT LEAST be transparent about what transactions might be underlying their content. Otherwise, it is only through other sources that this is leaked, or comes to light at all.

The entire practice of checkbook journalism will damage all organizations who proactice journalism. It should be completely avoided. However, if an organization does do this in some form, not disclosing these versions of payments make it even worse, as people are left to wonder if EVERY story has some underlying payment attached it.

So, if major journalism organizations are going to engage in payment-like practices (calling into question their long term viability to call themselves journalism organizations), the least you can do is disclose it. If you don't think it is something to be embarrassed about, then why hide it. This is important to media literacy and letting the consumer put the pieces together and giving them the right to make their own call.

Friday, January 1, 2010

The "Missing" News Stories of 2009

Recently, PRI's program To the Point hosted by Warren Olney and from KCRW in Los Angeles tackled this important subject and interviewed Joshua Keating, Associate Editor at "Foreign Policy" magazine, which created a top 10 of missed stories for 2009. These are stories that could impact America and the world in potentially profound ways, but they were no where to be found. For whatever reason, whether it be a preoccupation by the commercial press to cover celebrity or controversy, etc., these stories went "missing." As Joshua said, "These are ... the kind of stories that tend to linger in the page four section of the daily newspapers, but never make it on to cable news or the blogosphere."

The top three:

#1 The new shipping route that has opened between Russia and the Arctic due to global warming.

#2 Growing fears of conflict between the Arab and Kurdish populations in Iraq.

#3 A border dispute between India & China, "and the hotline established between the two countries to avoid possible war."

Pretty interesting take. Do you remember hearing about these stories? Do you think they are a big deal? Would be curious what your take would be too... what important stories, either national or international or global do you feel the news media missed due to preoccupation with other subjects? Would be interested in your views!

For more background on this topic and interview on To the Point, and to see a link to the entire top 10 list, please visit,, here:

"Missing Stories of 2009 | PRI.ORG