Welcome to this enlightening episode of AImpactful, where we explore the crucial role of trust in the dynamic world of journalism, with our guest Lynn Walsh, an Emmy Award-winning journalist known for her dedicated efforts to bridge the gap between the media and its audience. With over 15 years of experience in investigative, data, and TV journalism, Lynn offers a treasure trove of insights on how to navigate the complexities of modern news with integrity and transparency.

As the Assistant Director at Trusting News, Lynn plays a key role in helping journalists to tackle the challenges of a rapidly changing media landscape and build trust in news. Her leadership roles, including serving as a past national president and Ethics Chair for the Society of Professional Journalists, highlight her commitment to upholding the highest standards of journalistic ethics.

In our discussion, Lynn delves into the importance of building and maintaining trust in media, the impact of digital transformation on journalistic practices, and the thoughtful integration of AI in news reporting. She emphasizes the need for transparency, engagement, and diversity in newsrooms to foster a well-informed and trusting public.

Join us for a compelling conversation on the future of media trust, ethical considerations in the use of AI in journalism, and practical steps journalists can take to enhance their credibility and connect more deeply with their audience. This episode is an essential listen for anyone interested in the interplay between technology and journalism and the ongoing efforts to ensure the reliability and integrity of news in our society.

Transcript of the AImpactful Vodcast

Branislava Lovre: Welcome to AImpactful. In this episode we’re talking about trust, AI, and journalism. Our guest is Lynn Walsh, an award-winning journalist and an expert in building trust in news. Welcome, Lynn.

Lynn Walsh: Yes, you’re welcome. Glad to be here.

Branislava Lovre: Trust is one of the most important things when we speak about journalism. What should everyone know about this topic?

Lynn Walsh: If you think about how trust works, people are unlikely to read content or consume content if they do not trust who is producing it. This goes for things beyond news. Think about movies, think about games, cars they buy, right? They’re buying things, they’re liking things, they’re engaging with things that they trust. And so it’s the same with news and with journalism. If we want people to consume our content to get the information that hopefully we are producing that is accurate, ethical, and responsible, and it’s important for people to have that information, then we need to make sure we have that trusted relationship and unfortunately trust in news is very low. It’s very low around the world. Pretty much no matter where you look, it is pretty low. And you see that for similar reasons. People don’t understand how news works, they feel overwhelmed by news coverage, they think that it’s biased or it has an agenda, they don’t understand how it works, how it’s funded. Those are things that contribute to trust and those are pretty well established unfortunately all around the world.

Branislava Lovre: So trust in the news is low, but how do people build trust in news sources?

Lynn Walsh: So primarily we have found at Trusting News, that journalists and newsrooms can rebuild trust and or continue to build, have a trusting relationship with news consumers and with their communities by being transparent and by engaging and listening and also working on diversity efforts. And so first, I’ll start with the transparency. This is sort of basic, but for years, newsrooms haven’t been doing this. We need to be more transparent about how news works. So some basic media literacy stuff can really help. We also need to explain how we make decisions. People do not understand how, what a reporter does every day, what an editor does every day. And so when they don’t know how it works, they make an assumption. Generally, that assumption is negative, that leads to distrust and builds upon stereotypes of, “Oh, they just publish anything they want. They don’t fact check. It’s fake news,” all of that. And so if we want to fight that, the best thing you can do is basically to fill that information void that leads to that miss assumption and get on the record about how you choose which stories to cover, how you’re funded, how that impacts your decisions that you make, that you are ethical and you work to be ethical, how you work with sources. Another big part is the engagement. If you think about trust, it’s normally if you think about the people you trust, they’re people you have relationships with. Maybe the relationships have been over years. There’s consistency, not necessarily maybe in person, but they’ve shown up in your life online, whatever that might be. Well, it’s the same with news, too. We have to build relationships. We have to engage and listen to our audiences, listen to our communities and respond to them. And this shouldn’t just be with one event a year or showing up at a fair right. We need to consistently do it. And then the other thing we just know is that lack of diversity can also lead to distrust. People do see when they don’t see themselves, the issues they care about, the issues happening in their community, when they don’t see those things reflected in the news coverage or it’s portrayed in a way that doesn’t represent who they are and what they believe, they will not trust the news for the content. So we need to work on diversity within our own newsrooms, but also we need to work on diversity of the types of stories we’re talking about and covering, the people we’re interviewing, the different voices that we’re including in our coverage.

Branislava Lovre: You’re an award-winning journalist and an expert in building trust in news. Let’s talk about the topic of trust from both of these angles.

Lynn Walsh: Yeah, I mean, the first thing is this is hard. I mean, this is hard when especially working in a newsroom, you have fewer people in a lot of newsrooms. You have them doing more things, facing tighter deadlines, and you also have kind of a feel from the community of negativity, unfortunately, most of the time. Right. So, being a journalist is not easy. It is hard work. It’s also really, really important work. And I think something that I have learned as being a journalist, but also now working with journalists, is that we need to kind of stop always trying to be perfect and we need to work to have real conversations with people and be okay being transparent about how we do things, even if it’s not perfect, admitting when we make a mistake that’s so important. And when people come to us and are angry or upset, we need to listen to them, hear them, and then help them understand the process. Because a lot of times that anger is because they don’t understand how something is working or they’ve been treated poorly by a journalist or a news organization before. That’s a reality, right? And, so we need to meet them where they are and have that empathy. And I think that is hard and I think it’s something that isn’t necessarily taught maybe in journalism schools or that people have kind of, as they’ve been practicing journalism, it hasn’t been a part of the regular focus, but it really does need to be now. And that may mean that we’re changing our focus. Maybe we’re not producing as many stories, maybe we’re producing instead of five stories a week, you’re producing three, but they’re really good. And you talk to the community and you included more voices, right? That’s kind of the ideal situation for us to get there. We need to be willing to change our workflows a little bit. We’re going to make mistakes. It’s not going to be a perfect situation, but at least talk about it and be humble about it.

Branislava Lovre: With more AI tools now, it’s getting harder to trust the media and news.

Lynn Walsh: So I mean, technology can be a great thing. And you know, specifically looking at things like user-generated content, being able to include user-generated content, content that comes from people who aren’t journalists, I think is actually a really beneficial thing to the field of information, to the field of journalism. We’re getting access to places we never had before, we are getting to see from people’s own perspective. Those, to me, are good things that are only making our information better, that are only making news coverage better. Now, the downfall of that is, is that that’s not what all of the content represents. There are people who are bad actors who are trying to fool people, trick people, create things that go along with their own agenda. And so that’s where there’s a role news consumers have and there’s also a role that we have as journalists. One, as journalists, we need to make sure that any content we’re receiving, we are doing very thorough fact-checking. We should also explain that to our users, explain how we’re doing fact checking and why, we’re doing it, to make sure we verify so we can share with them, information that is accurate, honest, and truthful, right? Now, if we can do that and prove that, then it makes the job for the news consumer a little bit easier, because they can have that trust, that the news organization is doing that. But, we need to get on the record that we’re doing it, we need to be consistent in that we’re doing it and we need to build that trust. Now, if a news consumer doesn’t have trust in a news organization and is just relying on things they see on social media, other people, or just posts people are doing, there are things that they can do as well before sharing it, doing their own fact checking, which I think we all have a responsibility in, rightc  And so I think there are things that just as individuals that we can do as well. So, I think user-generated content can be and is a great thing. There are the drawbacks and potential problems with it, but if we all kind of pause for a moment and do our own fact-checking, if we reach out to a news organization and say, hey, is this true before you share it? And news organizations, let’s fact-check, let’s share. Let’s have a way for people to get in contact with us easier. Let’s educate people on how they can fact-check and check to see if things are real or not. Then we’re kind of helping the situation and making it a little bit easier to navigate.

Branislava Lovre: What are the biggest ethical challenges in the world of journalism and AI?

Lynn Walsh: I do believe that because as journalists, we are being asked to do more and more. And because getting information is more difficult, sharing information is more difficult. Deadlines are tighter, expectations are higher. I personally think why not allow technological tools, whether it’s AI or other things, to help us with the reporting process. I am all for that. The key, though, is you want to make sure you’re being transparent with your users about how you’re using it and that you are using it. I also do believe that we shouldn’t be at a point where we are just publishing content that AI has created. I do think there should be some kind of editing component from an actual human, from an actual journalist. Right. And I don’t think it should just we should be relying on AI to write content for us. Now, if we do all the background and we’ve already written, let’s say, I guess an example, maybe you’ve already written like your story for the website and let’s say it’s like 900 words. Well, you also want to include a blurb in the newsletter. I don’t see a problem with taking your content, like what you wrote, which has been fact-checked, it’s been put there all your ethical standards, your grammar, your fact-checking, your reporting standards, and asking AI to write a summary for a newsletter. I think that is okay. I do think we should be transparent, that we’re using tools to do that type of stuff. Now that transparency could come on the content itself. Maybe if you’re a newsroom and you’re using it often, maybe you’re asking it to help you with headlines. Maybe you’re like, I want to make this headline less polarizing. I think that’s fine, but we want to be transparent about the use of that, right? And, so if we are doing those types of things and we’re doing it often, I almost envisioned you have a page that says, here’s how we use technology, including AI. And you kind of explain, we sometimes might do this, we sometimes might do that, we sometimes might do this. We never will, just publish directly something that AI says, there’s always an editor that looks at it, whatever those policies are, but you’re on the record. And then maybe if the story has some component of AI, you have a little note that says, AI assisted in creating this content. To learn more about that, click here. And then it goes to your longer explanation about how you have used AI or the technology. And I think the reason that’s so important is because specifically when we look at trust, trust in news is already way too low, like it’s so low. Now you’re adding something like AI and technology, which people already tend to distrust, and now you’re saying, Oh, now I’m using this, for most people that is just going to be another red flag. So, anything we can do to be transparent about the usage and make sure that people understand we’re not getting away from our ethical principles or our editorial principles while using this, we need to make sure to tell them that and commit to that.

Branislava Lovre: There is a lot of problems regarding deepfakes and manipulated content in news. How can news organizations overcome these challenges?

Lynn Walsh: I think the biggest thing is that, one as journalists we should never just be resharing content that someone else has produced. It should go through the same editorial ethics fact-checking process like it would, anyone we chose to interview anything they said to us before we use the quote, right? We need to have that same standard. Even if someone like the New York Times is sharing it or The Washington Post, you should still do your own fact-checking. That’s really, really important. And yes, it takes longer. But guess what? You can explain your users. Sometimes we may not. Sometimes you might not see us have the information first, but we will get it right. But it takes us a little more time to verify it. You can count on us to get it right, say those things and meet those things. And I think you just always still have to fact-check.

Branislava Lovre: What steps can journalists take to build trust in the media?

Lynn Walsh: So one thing we recommend journalists do is create like a reporter mission statement. But, this could be useful for an editor, a producer, anyone who has a role of sharing information. And the goal with this is, is you basically, in a couple sentences, explain how you operate and what you’re covering and why. Right? And then also maybe why people should contact you and make sure there is contact information there. Now, I know for some journalists it is not safe to disclose your true identity, maybe include photos of yourself or your name or contact information. So if you are in one of those situations, definitely do not put yourself in harm’s way. There are other ways you can build trust. And still, if you can’t be contacted, is there someone else in the newsroom that can be contacted? Is there some kind of way you can set up something through an encryption where you’re not revealing your identity, but still people can get in touch with you? That ability to contact journalist is so, so important, that can definitely be something that builds trust. And then along with the transparency, just, you know, after you report on a story, consider going to social and explaining, you know, why you chose those sources, why you did the story in the first place. Was it just because you were driving and you were wondering about that and then you made a phone call, talk about that, be transparent about that. And if you do have any kind of biases or you are trying to achieve something, we need to disclose that. We need to make sure we’re being clear about that.

Branislava Lovre: What do you think the future of trust in media looks like?

Lynn Walsh: Some of the technology that exists and that will continue to be developed can actually help us make some of what we do automated and or make it easier so we can make time for more listening, for more engagement, which that’s going to build trust, that’s going to make our reporting better or allow us more time to be transparent, to explain something, right? If that technology can help us do those things, we just have to use it in a way that doesn’t compromise our ethics and be transparent about the usage of it. And we can’t just totally ignore it because if we do, other people are going to continue to use it and then we’re playing catch up, which, traditionally when news organizations have had to play catch up, doesn’t bode well for us.

Branislava Lovre: Some people say they trust content on social media more than mainstream media. What does this mean for journalism?

Lynn Walsh: I think it’s a good example of, you know, when the Internet came about, news organizations were kind of slow to adopt, social media. And, we were on it, but we weren’t necessarily staying super on top of it and maybe using it in ways that we could. And so a lot of times when you talk to journalists, especially journalists who have been in the business a long time and you say what has led to distrust, they’ll instantly blame the Internet and social media and then politicians normally There is some blame there. Absolutely. Yes. But the truth is, when you look at the data, trust was declining before the Internet. So it’s not just the Internet. It’s not just social media. It’s not just politicians that are to blame. There are things that we were not doing primarily, not being transparent, primarily not talking to our audiences. Right. That have also led to that distrust. And that was before those new technologies. And so we don’t want that to happen again. And we can’t just blame something new when it comes along. We need to get back down to kind of the basics of what good journalism is, which means we may be interrupting our workflows and how we produce content and or maybe producing fewer stories, but better stories that are more impactful.

Branislava Lovre: Thank you, Lynn, for this important conversation.

Lynn Walsh: Yes, you’re welcome.

Branislava Lovre: Thank you to all of you who joined us. See you in the next episode of AImpactful.