Chicago Tribune editor visits SIUC to discuss credibility

By Gus Bode

The black eye that journalism has received in the recent past has caused a state of emergency among journalist.

A recent study by Project for Excellence in Journalism shows a steady decrease in the public’s trust in news media for the past 20 years.

Don Wycliff, public editor at the Chicago Tribune, visited SIUC on Tuesday to talk to students and faculty about why journalists in all media are dealing with credibility issues and the types of things news organizations can do to regain the trust of the public. The public editor deals with people who are angry with what they have read in the newspaper.


Every day news publications make errors. It was not until recently it became common practice to publish corrections.

“You can’t publish a huge newspaper every day and not have some error in it,” Wycliff said. “It’s not angels who are doing this process.”

But more serious issues than the misspelling of names are now plaguing the journalism community.

“I hate to say it, but right now in the newspaper industry, maybe journalism as a whole, we have a crisis,” Wycliff said.

Names like Jayson Blair and Jack Kelley have caused readers to become more doubtful of the news they receive from news organizations.

Blair and Kelley both were released from their jobs at major news publications after they were found to have fabricated sources and facts in dozens of stories over the course of several years.

“They’ve helped to turn healthy reader skepticism increasingly into cynicism,” Wycliff said.


“It never would have occurred to me that we’d someday have to tell people you can’t make stuff up.”

Problems other than fabricating sources and plagiarizing stories, which made Blair and Kelley household names, have also come to light in newsrooms. Wycliff said the public feels the news is delivered with favoritism.

“Bias is the single greatest complaint,” Wycliff said. “People don’t think we are playing it straight.”

Inaccuracies and biases that appear in the paper may be related to editors’ lack of power to challenge reporters’ accuracy.

“The whole middle level of editors – not the top people who make the big decisions, the ones in the middle who have to work on a daily basis with reporters and their copy – have been disempowered, and they need to be re-empowered,” Wycliff said.

The trust of readers is the most important quality of a journalist. Without trust, all of the credibility a respected newspaper may have is lost onto the public that buys the product on a daily basis.

“They can cut you off if they don’t believe you,” Wycliff said.