Jon K. Rust

Jon K. Rust is publisher of the Southeast Missourian and co-president of Rust Communications.


Do you trust this newspaper?

Should you trust this newspaper?

In the past several decades, the confidence Americans have in institutions has ebbed. According to Gallup, only "the military" has increased in esteem. "Small business" and "the criminal justice system" have held steady. Views of "the police" go up and down but are now lagging again. Institutions like "the church" or "organized religion," "public schools," "big business" and "banks" all are down, most of them precipitously. American confidence in "Congress" and "the presidency," well, I don't think I need to tell you that they've cratered.

Media in America also have taken a hit. Although Americans have much more confidence in "newspapers" compared to "television news" or "news on the Internet," the number of people who have a "great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in newspapers has dropped by a third in the past 30 years.

Does any of this surprise you? I doubt it.

Skepticism, even cynicism, is a hallmark of the current age. This is partially the result of media itself, which is now marked by a diversity of voices and perspectives not heard so distinctly before. Institutions that more easily dominated public storylines are now under new, attention-grabbing forms of criticism.

On one hand, this new media diversity is exciting and good, because it elevates new thinking and constructive ideas that were suppressed in a more monolithic age. Thanks to the new media landscape, "the emperor isn't wearing clothes" can be written and blogged and youtubed and tweeted and facebooked and instagrammed by a million inartful, but truthful children. When the institution without clothes is "the media," then it, too, is exposed and humbled.

On the other hand, new media tools also give power to people (and companies) who are worse than inartful children, and who don't speak the truth. Some of these don't really care if the emperor is wearing clothes or not, just as long as crying it out means they can gain attention or profit, leverage or fame. Maybe even for some: just a few minutes of activity to fill a gap in the day or to achieve some production quota. When this happens, and people see it happening, the reputation of all media suffers collateral damage.

At the Southeast Missourian, we take news integrity seriously. And we establish systems and processes, elevate people and seek to cultivate a culture that serves this community every day in reporting honestly and well about the world around us.

Do we make mistakes? Yes. Do these mistakes sicken us when we make them? Yes. Do we learn from these mistakes to become better? Yes.

One of the ways that the newsroom seeks to get the news right is the "fact check" button on our website. Each story provides readers a link and automated form to let us know if there is something in the story that can be improved. Oftentimes, corrections from readers allow us to make changes immediately online even before a story makes it into print. The most common error? The misspelling of names that come to us originally from a document listing names (wrongly), supplied by an official source. Alas, this is frustrating. But we want those changes to create the appropriate record.

The more complicated "corrections" are when readers think we've missed the essence of a story. When we receive that kind of input, the newsroom reviews the matter to explore if we did miss something and, if so, how to follow-up.

In a way, I think the online "fact check" is kind of like video replays in Major League Baseball. In baseball, coaches can now ask officiating crews to review how they called a particular play. Most of the time, the review validates the umpire's call or underlines that there's no clear right or wrong. But when there's a clear mistake, a correction is made. Our news goal at the Southeast Missourian is always to get the calls right, but when we don't, to right the ones that we miss.

"Fact check" is but one mechanism the Southeast Missourian employs to live up to high standards in serving the community. There are many others. Ultimately, we are tested on these standards daily with each new edition and online story. How well we accomplish our goals is, most importantly, judged by you. Throughout the 110 years of this unending test, we appreciate our readers' patronage and feedback. We welcome your comments on how we can become even better.

Jon K. Rust is publisher of the Southeast Missourian and co-president of Rust Communications. This is the first of an occasional series of columns about the Southeast Missourian's history and future vision. To send him questions or comments for this series, email: jrust@semissourian.com. Please ask for confirmation that your email was received.