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The New York Times reported a couple of weeks ago that the Washington Post is on track to lose $100 million in 2023 – a staggering amount of money by any measure, but especially when considering that it represents 40% of the $250 million Jeff Bezos paid for it 10 years ago.

The Post is not alone in receiving bad news. The Times also announced last month that it was shuttering its sports desk. Back in April, Buzzfeed News announced that it was shutting down completely, while Vice canceled its flagship news program, “Vice News Tonight,” among broader cuts there. 

The bloodletting has led to the usual conversations about the decimation of newsrooms since the advent of the internet and the deleterious effects on American democracy. These conversations almost always come down to the need to answer two basic questions: 1) Is it possible for news organizations to be profitable in the internet era, and 2) Do people even care about the news anymore?

I don’t have the answer to the former, but I do want to speculate about the latter because it’s the one that comes up the most in my own discussions with other journalists. I think that the resounding answer is that yes, Americans care about what’s happening around them. They want that information to come from sources they find trustworthy though, and therein lies the rub.

For those who work in the media, trustworthiness has professional implications. Trustworthiness includes elements like the accuracy and completeness of information, the veracity of sources and research, and the timeliness of the information among other factors. News organizations – yes, even the ones you don’t like – spend countless hours ensuring that their audience can trust them. Journalists and researchers have done extensive studies to try and understand how to build and increase trust.

The establishment of trust is the key ingredient to sharing information with people, because simply stating facts is not enough. “The sky is blue” is a fact, but it must be contextualized with the time of day, the weather conditions, and other information that certify and bolster the fact – or disprove it when necessary. That’s why journalists write news stories instead of fact sheets. Context is crucial to understanding.

The internet, and in particular social media, allow access to people who share information with better contextual understanding than journalists can muster. That’s because of the closed-network nature of social media. People typically follow family and friends on social media. Yes, they trust those people for numerous personal reasons that journalists can’t compete with. But the key is that close family and friends understand the context in which each other lives, and curate and deliver information to each other based on that context. That makes the information more trustworthy if for no other reason than the recipient thinking, “This information has come from someone who thinks I need to know it.”

I don’t think that distinction can be underestimated. Journalists and researchers are constantly trying to understand why people turn to “unreliable sources for their information such as social media posts which have no sourcing and make dubious claims. What we have to understand is that the share itself is the verification. Of course, people make individual determinations about the importance and accuracy of what enters their social media feed all the time, so not even friends get a free pass when sharing information. But they do get the benefit of the doubt that unknown journalists don’t. People believe that those in their social media circles have their best interests at heart, where reporters are (in their minds) indifferent at best, or part of a massive corporate conspiracy at worst.

Another key component of context creation is the dreaded comments section. News organizations of every size and type have had to struggle with the horrors of moderating comments on hot-button issues and breaking news, with many getting rid of their comments section entirely to avoid the headache. Comments are critical for providing greater detail, analysis and counterarguments whether they’re true or not. They help readers situate facts inside the narrative, which is the primary way people understand their world. Social media is essentially the comments section come to life, and those who run those platforms have decided to moderate only the most extreme content. So readers can find any context they want for the stories they read.

As journalists, our job is to share information. It doesn’t make sense to scold people or question their curiosity simply because they don’t want to hear what we’re telling them, because it turns out they do want to hear it – when it fits into the context of their lives. There’s probably no way to prevent readers from summarizing articles on Facebook for their friends. What we can do though is work on ensuring our information fits into the context of our readers, so that maybe they’ll check the news site first, and Facebook second.

Jamil Ragland writes and lives in Hartford. You can read more of his writing at www.nutmeggerdaily.com.

The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of CTNewsJunkie.com or any of the author's other employers.