At the FT’s Future of News conference on Wednesday, Reuters Editor-in-Chief Stephen J. Adler stressed that in order to be a trusted news organization, “you must be trustworthy.” There are certain fundamentals, Adler said: “Start with an open mind, provide a fair opportunity to comment, be transparent about what you don’t know as well as what you do know, and correct any mistakes fast and fully.”
Adler joined the U.S. editors’ panel ‘Restoring Trust’ alongside NPR’s SVP of News and Editorial Director Nancy Barnes and Los Angeles Times Executive Editor Norman Pearlstine, exploring how well the news business has held power to account and informed its audiences at a time when the public’s health and economic livelihoods have become increasingly vulnerable.
During the wide ranging interview, Adler argued that journalists should follow the facts rather than hew to a pre-conceived premise. He also emphasized the importance of seeking comment, not only to plug in a quote but to acquire fresh information that, he said, “can enhance or build on the story.”
Critical importance throughout the discussion was placed on the readers’ trust in media, the importance of facts, the rise of misinformation and how social media has affect the news media.
Adler drew on his experience in business news to make a point about the importance of providing facts and analysis rather than infusing personal opinion in news coverage: “People who consume business news need it to be accurate, need it to be honest, need it to be fair,” Adler said. “In financial news, readers are trading on it. In personal finance news, they are making personal finance decisions on it. Nobody wants your opinion. They want you to be factual and careful.”
Adler also contested the view that aiming for objectivity detracts from analysis and perspective. “It’s not he said, she said; it’s not false equivalency,” Adler said. “It’s providing facts in context to help people make smarter decisions. To the extent that people have strayed from that, I do think it contributes to the distrust.”
When asked if the news media needs to do something differently in the Trump presidency in light of misinformation, Adler said, “We’re a global news organization, operating in 200 locations around the world. We certainly see a trend towards much tougher treatment of the press…I believe in press freedom organizations – that is a great place to advocate for a free press. Our job as a news organization is to report on the news, not be the news.”
[Reuters PR blog post]