When journalist Rod Hicks started digging into why people don’t trust information from reputable news outlets, he turned to Wyoming.
A Gallup and John S. and James L. Knight Foundation survey ranked Wyoming as the least trusting state, when it comes to media, in the nation. Wyoming scored a 25 out of a possible 100 points on the 2018 survey’s “trust scale,” similar to Nebraska, Utah, North Dakota and Idaho, which each ranked either 27 or 28. In contrast, the most trusting states — Hawaii, Alaska, California, Massachusetts, Maryland and New Jersey — all scored in the 40s.
“Really what we’re trying to do is understand where this distrust is coming from,” Hicks said. “We’re really trying to get a good handle on that.”
To do that Hicks launched a six-month project in Casper in which about 30 residents participated in discussion about media distrust and related topics. Now the rest of the state can tune into the discussion.
Wyoming PBS will livestream the final session — “Dear National News Media: Why Should We Trust You?” — from 5 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday from the Krampert Theatre on the Casper College campus. The forum will give the public a chance to interact with national newsmakers from The Associated Press, BuzzFeed News, NBC News, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post. It is free and open to the public.
“What we found to be valuable to the participants was to give them a chance, to not just vent to me but to vent directly to the press,” Hicks said.
In a separate event Jackson Hole readers are invited to come talk with reporters and editors from the News&Guide and Jackson Hole Daily about the state of journalism in the Tetons. Following on the heels of the “Coffee with an Editor” series, Editor Johanna Love welcomes the community to the newsroom’s first “Pitches and Pints” event from 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday at the Roadhouse Brewery Tap Room.
Community members are invited to bring story ideas and questions or just stop by to chat with reporters and editors about the craft of journalism. The first 10 people to arrive will receive a free pint.
“Although you probably see reporters and photographers out in the community, this event allows newsroom members to engage with residents in a relaxed manner,” Love said. “Ask us questions, pitch us stories. We want to hear how you think we’re doing and what kinds of articles you want to read.”
Readers tend to be more trusting of local media than national media so Hicks expects Tuesday’s Casper forum — focused specifically on national news — to draw some tough questions. Panelists include Neal Lipschutz, deputy editor-in-chief of The Wall Street Journal; Noreen Gillespie, deputy managing editor for U.S. News for The Associated Press; Lori Montgomery, deputy national editor for The Washington Post; and Hayes Brown, world news editor and senior reporter for BuzzFeed News.
“Working to earn the trust of readers and viewers is crucial to the value of journalism, as it always has been,” Lipschutz said in a news release.
Originally, Pete Williams, justice correspondent for NBC News and a Casper native, was scheduled to moderate. He canceled because he is expected to cover former special counsel Robert Mueller as he testifies publicly about his two-year Russia investigation before the House Intelligence Committee and Judiciary Committee on July 17, according to Hicks.
Hicks said news media coverage of President Trump came up frequently in the earlier Casper sessions, which attracted a mix of conservative, liberal and moderate participants.
The Society for Professional Journalists Foundation is the primary funder of “Media Trust and Democracy: The Casper Project” with additional support from the Wyoming Community Foundation, Wyoming Humanities Council and Town Square Media. A former Associated Press reporter, Hicks “put the meat on the bone” of the project after being hired to serve as the SPJ Journalist on Call.
Among the most successful sessions that could be replicated, Hicks said, was an in-depth conversation about what constitutes bias and how to distinguish between opinion page commentary and news stories. The project’s findings will be presented at a session at the Excellence in Journalism 2019 conference in September in San Antonio.
“This will be a great way for our time in Casper to come to a close, by bringing members of the public and national journalists together to freely discuss the state of journalism and the relationship between the public and journalists in today’s climate,” said Irwin Gratz, president of the SPJ Foundation. “We look forward to the conversation and hope it will provide insights into improving that relationship moving forward.” ￼