Reuters and trust

Tom Glocer, head of Reuters, posts a speech he gave on news and trust in Israel on his blog. It starts with a good summary of what an old-media exec should be saying about the new, two-way world and then he tackles the Reuters photo affair in Beirut, which Reuters did handle well, reacting immediately. Then he gives technical news:

I am pleased to announce today that we are working with Adobe and Canon to create a solution that enables photo editors to view an audit trail of changes to a digital image, which is permanently embedded in the photograph, ensuring the accuracy of the image. . . .

It is important to say that we sought this technical solution, not because we don’t trust our photographers – far from it. I am incredibly proud of the amazing and dangerous work our photographers and journalists do. They all too often risk their lives to get the photograph that tells the true story of a conflict or captures the horror of war. The threat of injury or death is a daily hazard for many.

No, we sought a technical solution so that we had total and full transparency of our work. It’s what we stand for. It’s what we’ve always stood for. And we hope that it will provide reassurance to editors and consumers of our services.

When I discussed this innovation with one of our best photographers, Ahmed Jadallah, in Dubai last week, he welcomed the transparency. He almost died three years ago in his native Gaza photographing the Intifada, but he wants the world to know his photos are 100% truthful.

Glocer also talks about the lessons of the incident:

So what does the Hajj incident tell us? There are three key lessons:

The first is accountability. The upside of the flourishing blogosphere is that beyond our own strict editorial standards, there is a new check and balance. I take my hat off to Charles Johnson, the editor of Little Green Footballs. Without his website, the Hajj photo may well have gone unnoticed.

The blogosphere provides accountability. They’re not always going to be right. Indeed, many of the accusations levelled at traditional media are partisan in nature – but some are not. We have to listen to the bloggers – we shouldn’t ignore them.

The second lesson is about the trust of our audience. We learned at Reuters that the action of one man – a man who wasn’t even a full-time staff member – could seriously hurt the trust in our news, built assiduously over 155 years. His stupid decision to clone smoke cost us.

We learned that your reputation is only as good as the last photograph you transmit, or the last story you file.

The final lesson we learned was this – more than ever the world needs a media company free from bias, independent, telling it as it really is, without the filter of national or political interest.

If you searched across the Web during the Lebanon conflict you saw many entrenched and extreme views – on either side. There were thousands of voices opining on the war from their own particular standpoint. This cacophony of voices is exciting and it does for the first time give a true flavor of all views. It is also provides a marketplace for ideas.

But I strongly believe that in the mixing of different voices we will always need a place for the news organization whose watchword is trust. Trust will be the differentiator in the new media dynamic. Your independence and impartiality will mark you out.

Telling the story truthfully is more important than ever. Reporting it without spin and without editorializing is critical if history is to accurately record events.

This was a theme I heard at the American Academy of Arts & Sciences event I spoke at the other night (and didn’t bother blogging because not much happened, by the way): People from big, institutional journalism said there will always be a role and a necessity for such institutions. I won’t argue, operationally, that there will be a role for institutions, although they won’t be as big as they are now.

But I don’t fully buy the organizational analysis of trust that they and Glocer make. Does the institution — by its actions, standards, or reputation — enhance credibility and trust? In some ways, yes; I trust, for example, that a New Yorker story will be fact-checked better than my blog. But still, we will all judge the the trust of any story or writer ourselves and that does not hinge on the building from which the come.

In his list of lessons, I think Glocer misses the big lesson he himself just taught only a moment before: the value of transparency and its ability to bolster trust. That will matter for all — individuals or institutions — who publish with the intent to be trusted.