The Core of Journalism Is Trust

I was recently wrong about something and I want to make sure people know.

Honestly, I get stuff wrong all the time and it sucks. Being wrong sucks. It’s ugly, embarrassing, it makes you look like a fool and no one wants to look like a fool. That’s why most people get really quiet when they are wrong.

The way that I was wrong started as most of these things do, with people arguing on twitter. Radley Balko, a Washington Post contributor, praised one person for her journalistic integrity while condemning the journalistic integrity of another.

I then made the point that what would have been better than a simple statement about this statistic would have been a link so that readers could verify this information for themselves. I said this because I went looking for verification of McCullough’s statement and all I could find was this article from August in which Dallas homicides are down year-over-year.

I made an unwise and snarky comment about praising journalists who get things wrong and don’t provide backup for their claims and Radley responded with… a link-less statement that requires me to trust that he’s telling me the truth.

Concerned that I had missed his statement, he helpfully came back around to try to make sure I corrected myself and this time he provided a link to the statement. Which is good, that’s exactly what I asked for! I’m frustrated that I couldn’t find this information on my own when I went looking for it, but I’m glad to know the truth. I then highlighted Radley, entirely unfiltered, in my timeline with a clear note that I was wrong and he was right.

This is a thing I do. When I’m wrong, try to make a very big deal about being wrong because if you don’t address being wrong, people aren’t able to trust you. You could be saying anything, you could be spouting pure nonsense and just hoping that people never find out that you don’t know what you’re talking about. In the long term, this is a pretty destructive behavior. Highlighting corrections at the same level (or higher) than the original assertion is a key part of trust.

But another part of trust in the world of journalism is the original point I made, that redirection to outside data is an essential component of journalism in a digital world. Simply saying things and hoping people trust us no longer works. We need to show our work, we need to back up our statements. If we have the data available, that part needs to be out in the open.

I’m sorry to Radley for my snarky statement and I’m sorry that I didn’t find this article, though I spent a good amount of time looking for it.

I’m happy to be proven wrong, and even to highlight my wrongness, because it helps us all trust each other a little bit more.

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