Trust in media erodes as cases of mistaken reporting mount


The above tweet, posted on the Associated Press’ Twitter page on April 23, caused an immediate stir among readers.

The AP Twitter account, which had been hacked, was corrected moments later with a new tweet, deeming the previous message false.

Unfortunately, the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 150 points before the public had been reassured by the correction.

Just a few days earlier, CNN mistakenly told viewers that police had a suspect responsible for the Boston bombings in custody.

These errors serve as important reminders to question reported news.

“When Boston happened … there were many erroneous reports going out, some of which were dangerous and some of which were just embarrassing for the news people,” said Richie Zweigenhaft, Dana professor of psychology and coordinator of the communications minor.

“There are hundreds and hundreds of stations … and they all want to be the first to break stories, so they don’t monitor and check the way that a daily newspaper historically would do,” said Zweigenhaft.

As more and more news sources transform to digital form only, mistakes similar to those made during the Boston bombings could occur more often.

“I see people (with) their heads stuck in these magic screens, and they kind of tune out the world,” Jeri Rowe, staff columnist at the News and Record, told The Guilfordian. “They want it now. Well, if you want it now, is it right?  Are you sure it’s right?”

Fact-checking and investigation help verify information but require both time and money.

“I do think there’s a trend (in declining media credibility), but it’s a long-standing trend,” said Naadiya Hasan, assistant professor of sociology and anthropology.

“It’s not something that’s just happened in the past year or two. It’s something that’s been happening for the past decade to 20 years,” she added.

People are also turning to social media sources like Twitter and Reddit for news.

“I find Twitter to be a more valuable news resource than one might think,” wrote Sam Gibson, an Early College senior taking Zweigenhaft’s Mass Media Psychology class, in an email.

“Even though tweets can only be 140 characters, they usually provide links to larger articles.”

However, using social media as a source of news can present problems.

“More people can become, essentially, their own publishers; that also destabilizes that relationship of who are the legitimate news providers,” said Hasan.

“(That) would require a more critical audience, but I don’t necessarily know that (the public is) getting the training to be a more critical audience,” she added.

So how can readers and viewers ensure their news sources are credible?

“I believe in reading and I believe in print,” said Zweigenhaft. “I think if students … want to get more in-depth coverage of the kinds of issues that we’re faced by, it’s a good idea to read, and it’s a good idea to read where you’re not simultaneously doing eight things.”

As a columnist, Rowe also sees print news from the production side.

“People kind of put us up there with used car salesmen,” said Rowe. “They feel that we bend or sway the news.  From where I sit, that is just wrong. The only commodity I have is trust.  If I don’t have trust, I don’t have anything.”

Trusting online sources can be harder than trusting print because of the possibility of hacking or unverified information.

“A rapidly developing story of national interest followed by many news outlets … creates a competitive pressure to publish updates as quickly as possible,” said Dawn DeCwikiel-Kane, staff writer for the News and Record, in an email interview.

“As authorities and others reveal more details, some information published early on might turn out not to be accurate,” he added.

The number of respectable online news sources is growing as more news sources shift away from print, but that does not mean everything posted online is true.

Now more than ever, it is important to think critically about the news appearing online.