The same may be said of news organizations. Wikipedia, after all, is at its core simply a fully transparent version of what happens in newsrooms: the discussions and debates and yes, buts and have you considereds that result, finally, in a singular narrative. The difference has been the finality of print versus the permanent-beta of the Web post—and the author-suggestion of the byline versus the authorlessness-suggestion of the lack thereof. Wikipedia is so trusted as a source, indeed, that it may actually enjoy more trust than it deserves (cf. the many instances of errored-Wikipedia-entries-accepted-as-fact); the root of that trust, though, is the authority of the collective.
It is that authority that news organizations need to leverage; it is that authority that they need to embrace. Transparency may be the new objectivity; but we need to shift our definition of ‘transparency’: from ‘the revelation of potential biases,’ and toward ‘the revelation of the journalistic process.’ Transparency needs to be about fostering conversation rather than ending it, and about respecting the audience enough to take them into the process of news. To re-imagine news less as a commodity and more as a community.
As journalism accumulates more and more voices, though—and as the din of those voices becomes louder and more cacophonous—we increasingly need narrative agents that rise above simple subjectivity as much as they do simple objectivity, agents that transcend the authorship of the individual: agents to sort fact from fiction, the quality information from the dreck, the news that forms the basis of democratic action from the news that forms the basis of the everything-else. We need, in other words, the collective authority of the institution. If news organizations can reclaim institutionalism, they’ll be taking a small but significant step toward reclaiming their narrative authority. And our trust along with it.
For a list of suggestions for further reading, click here. For Justin Peters’s companion piece on authority and credibility in online communications, click here. For an overview of the Press Forward series and links to older content, click here.