“Our newsroom undertook a rigorous review of our ethics and standards policies, updating them for the digital era and ensuring that they aligned with the global standards upheld by Trust Project members,” said Brian Rhoads, SCMP’s managing editor. “It was an exercise in making certain that the journalistic ethics that we had practiced for years would be transparent to our readers. Much of the process involved reviewing policies that for years had been circulated only to the newsroom — making them open, clear, and accessible to our readers.”
This also meant being consistent across the company to global best practices, including adding links to SCMP’s Web site that increased transparency around editorial practices, updating the company’s Policies and Standards, and publishing policies on fact-checking, sourcing, corrections, and ethics.
“Building trust with readers is important for any news publisher in an era where misinformation spreads quickly and pervasively,” Rhoads said. “We recognised that it was more important than ever for readers to be able to identify high-quality, credible journalism. And we believe that a robust and global standard for news will help amplify trustworthy voices and slow the spread of fake news.”
Fighting fake news with transparency
The Edelman Trust Barometer 2020 Survey showed traditional media is the second-most trusted source of information worldwide, following search engines. But the most recent update, from September, showed trust in news declining to record lows: 53% of people said they trusted traditional news media as a source compared to 65% in 2019 and 62% in 2012. The most recent report also ranked traditional media as the second most-trusted source of information worldwide, following search engines.
“Worldwide, the proliferation of fake news and the rise of social media platforms and the lack of accountability of traditional news to distribute a balanced package of accurate information has contributed to a crisis in trust in the media industry,” Rhoads said.
Folded into that media landscape is SCMP, which prides itself on its dedication to leading the global conversation on China with independent journalism.
“A commitment to transparency is fundamental to journalistic excellence,” Rhoads said. “We are committed to serving readers with objective journalism as well as providing access to comprehensive, nuanced, contextualised facts. We want our readers to have a transparent view of the standards and practices we uphold in our reporting because the topics we cover can often be polarising and sometimes misunderstood.”
To do this, SCMP:
Speaks up for journalistic excellence and freedom of the press across Asia.
Seeks initiatives that strengthen its editorial policies, including its collaboration with The Trust Project on best practices that support the production and publishing of balanced and accurate reporting.
Updates its policies when issues are identified. For example, after joining The Trust Project, SCMP updated policies to include detailed guidance for the newsroom on handling and guarding against hoaxes: “We reviewed and strengthened our contributor verification processes after SCMP was among several global organisations that were targeted and deceived by a disinformation network trying to publish opinion pieces under a false identity,” Rhoads said.
Seeks feedback from subscribers to continue efforts to best serve its global audience as a trusted source of information.
Raising a voice against fake news
“The proliferation of fake news and political polarisation has eroded people’s trust in the media and allowed the loudest voices to be the most authoritative. The solution is for news organisations to rebuild a relationship of trust directly with their readers and provide a compelling experience of the news that demonstrates the value of independent journalism.
“While SCMP is the first news organisation based in Asia to join The Trust Project, we should not be the last one,” Rhoads said. “We hope our participation encourages our regional colleagues to adopt these globally accepted standards to promote fair, balanced, and trustworthy journalism in newsrooms across Asia.”
This case study originally appeared in the recent INMA report, How News Brands Are Rebuilding Trust.