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How do you gain someone’s trust?

By Jimmy Alford | Published Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Anything you ever wanted to know, or not know, has been put into a poll.

We all know about them. These polls become exceptionally ubiquitous around election time.

Jimmy Alford

Jimmy Alford

This time next year, we’ll all be giving thanks for an end to political ads and experts extrapolating the hidden truths in polling questions. We’ll also be praying that the folks crazy enough to run for office aren’t actually crazy.

The reason I bring this up is that journalists like myself have been the subject of a recent Gallup poll. The questions dealt with how trustworthy journalists are believed to be.

According to Gallup, we’re not looking that great.

For three days earlier this month, Gallup pollsters put forth a series of questions via phone to 1,000 people willing to offer an opinion. Only 21 percent felt newspaper reporters were trustworthy at all.

Just 21 percent. It’s low, but it doesn’t hurt my feelings. It’s hard not to be skeptical, especially about the people who produce the information you read. And if you buy into what some politicians spin, we, the liberal media, have an agenda.

Sigh.

What bothers me most is, I have no idea how to earn folks’ trust outside of doing my job – but it seems my job alone is reason enough for many to distrust me.

I’ve run into this over and over in my career. Some guy didn’t like an opinion article written five years ago by someone I don’t know, and suddenly I can’t be trusted.

Rest assured there are very few, if any, real conspiracies out there. The idea of a clandestine meeting somewhere with people of power trying to sway the media is pretty far-fetched.

And it’s a real stretch to think some powerful demagogue thinks enough of my influence on readers to try and persuade me to do something unethical.

I place that kind of thinking in the same tray with people who are convinced referees have been paid off to make their local 2A football team lose.

Most of the time when people say they don’t trust me, they also slip and admit they don’t even read the news. Again, I have no idea how to earn trust from people like this.

Maybe it all comes down to the fact that some people may not understand what my job is and what I do when I’m out there reporting.

A lot of times, my job starts out in a meeting like city council or the local school board. Sometimes I get a tip from a concerned citizen or an email telling me about a local do-gooder. In Wise County, we have a lot of do-gooders, and that is a great thing.

Then I ask questions and write down responses, and then I will type those answers down in a story format. That is the simplest form of what a reporter does.

We don’t make stuff up, we don’t make up quotes, and in fact, almost everything in a story comes directly from our sources.

We each have opinions, too, but we are professionals. We try to keep those opinions out of our news stories and save them for here on the op-ed page.

And we are held accountable, we can be sued for libel, we can be fired for a multitude of reasons and we can lose what we value most – the trust of our readers.

So for all those people who think we don’t care, or think we are unscrupulous: remember, our job revolves around you and informing you the readers. Thankfully, Wise County is full of great and thoughtful people.

We get paid to give you the best information we can – that is our job.

Jimmy Alford is a Messenger paginator, photographer and reporter.

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