Trey Kay, Laurie Stern, Mitch Hanley Published

Us & Them: Diminished Trust In The News Media


Trust is in short supply in America as social and political divides continue to erode our faith in our democratic republic. National surveys and polls show that people distrust each other as well as our government and institutions. 

Us & Them Host Trey Kay recently partnered with West Virginia University’s Reed College of Media for a conversation focusing on diminished trust in journalism and the news media. He spoke with special guests Raney Aronson-Rath, editor-in-chief and executive producer of PBS Frontline, and June Cross, director of the documentary journalism program at the Columbia Journalism School.

The panelists agreed that the rise of social media and the hollowing out of local news have been part of the problem. The event included thought-provoking audience questions and comments about who and what they trust. This episode of Us & Them draws from that live event as we figure out where to turn for reliable information.

This episode of Us & Them is presented with support from the West Virginia Humanities Council, and the CRC Foundation.

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Two women and one man sit behind a table in a panel discussion.
Professor June Cross (left) of the Columbia Journalism School and Raney Aronson-Rath (center) editor-in-chief and executive producer of PBS Frontline, speak with Us & Them Host Trey Kay at West Virginia University.

Credit: Julie Blackwood
A woman in a blue dress and black cardigan poses for a photo in front of a blue background.
Raney Aronson-Rath is editor-in-chief and executive producer of Frontline, PBS’s flagship investigative journalism series. She is a leading voice on the future of journalism. Under her leadership, Frontline has won every major award in broadcast journalism.

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A woman in a green shirt poses for a professional photo.
June Cross is Columbia University’s Fred W. Friendly, professor of media and society, and director of the Documentary Journalism Program. Her work has been awarded with the highest honors in broadcast journalism, and her career has highlighted stories of the dispossessed and the intersection of race, politics, and public health. She joined the Columbia Journalism School in 2001, and she is now a tenured faculty member.

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A man wearing a suit and tie and glasses speaks into a microphone while sitting behind a table.
“We’ve heard from many people who say that the erosion in public trust in America is an existential threat to our democratic republic. We believe this is the issue of our times.” — Trey Kay, Us & Them host

Credit: Julie Blackwood
More than a dozen people sit in the audience of a panel discussion.
An audience of students, faculty and community members from throughout West Virginia came to West Virginia University’s Reynolds Hall to listen to a discussion about diminished trust in the news media and journalism.

Credit: Julie Blackwood
A young woman with dark curly hair speaks into a microphone that is held by a woman in a business suit.
I’m 18 and journalism has been so skewed for my whole life. My political consciousness kind of was there during the Trump presidency, and we know that since then the media has been so biased… Have you noticed any trends of apathy or ignorance among teenagers in my generation towards politics and current events? Because we just don’t care what the media has to say, because it’s been so bad.” — West Virginia University student

Credit: Julie Blackwood
A man sits in a chair and speaks into a microphone held by a woman in a business suit.
“I want to talk to you about the role and impact of technology and journalism. Should journalists be rushing towards new technologies? And what about also the impact of AI [Artificial Intelligence]? Raney, you said that you know journalists are trained to be able to distinguish reality from fake. What if we are soon or if not already in that time where we genuinely cannot tell what is true and what is not?” — Prof. Robert Quick, director of Marshall University’s W. Page Pitt School of Journalism & Mass Communications

Credit: Julie Blackwood
A man stands and speaks into a microphone held by a woman in a business suit. The man reads a question from a piece of paper.
“My trust in West Virginia media was diminished after the West Virginia Broadcasters Association and West Virginia media, including Public Broadcasting, changed the debate rules to exclude third party candidates. How do we restore our faith that we can return to a structure where outside voices and not just the two corporate parties have a seat at the table?” — Joel Brown, West Virginia University staff

Credit: Julie Blackwood
A woman wearing a black and white polka dot shirt and glasses speaks into a microphone that's held by a woman in a business suit.
“There is something to be said that we’ve splintered and that we’re getting news from TikTok instead of just the CBS Nightly News. That it’s not just Walter Cronkite, it’s a variety of voices that are doing this online. But at the same time, you both also mentioned that, that part of this splintering and this distrust resulted as a [democratizing of] the media ecosystem since more and more people have entered. And so I’m wondering, is part of restoring faith in the media, actually restoring some sense of gatekeepers?” — Amy Eddings, reporter from Ideastream Public Media in Cleveland, OH

Credit: Julie Blackwood
A woman with dark hair and big earrings speaks into a microphone that's held by a woman in a business suit.
“When do the individuals that are beholden to media, have a love for media and actually care about the reputation of media, begin to step in and say, ‘For the integrity of my profession, I need to show some authenticity and fix how we as a profession are seen, not the problems of the world per se, but how we conduct ourselves in this profession?’” — Meshea Poore, vice president for West Virginia University’s Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Credit: Julie Blackwood