IF THE Archbishop of Canterbury phones to tell you that he is “intending to quit”, and then texts you a copy of his resignation letter, then you probably do not need to confirm it with a second source.
But if “a well-placed source” within the C of E rings with the same information, even if they claim to have heard it first-hand, then you should seek further confirmation.
This nugget of wise advice for journalists is found in this much-needed guide to “what to believe in a Fake News world’” by Alan Rusbridger, editor-in-chief of The Guardian from 1995 to 2015.
Using an A-to-Z format, Rusbridger covers topics from Accuracy to Zoomers (Generation Z), in which BBC World’s faith and ethics journalist Sophia Smith Galer is described as “the Tik Tok whisperer”, for her innovative work on the popular social-media channel.
Subjects tackled by Rusbridger range from clickbait to climate change, from vice to vox pops, each describing features of contemporary journalism, and their impact on trust in the media. Several prominent figures are also profiled and evaluated, including the investigative journalist John Pilger, the Trump biographer Michael Wolff, and the media owner Rupert Murdoch.
In the key Trust section, Rusbridger quotes a 2019 survey placing the British press as among the least trusted in Europe, and sets out 11 ways in which journalists could raise their game. These include showing their evidence, avoiding anonymous sources, including internet links in articles, so that people can check the information, and being willing both to engage with readers and to correct and clarify mistakes quickly.
This is an important book for anyone concerned about the erosion of trust in society, and specifically the part that the media can play in either furthering that erosion or countering it.
Rusbridger sets out some high ideals. I wish I could be confident that all journalists would follow them.
The Revd Peter Crumpler is a Self-supporting Minister in St Albans diocese, and a former Director of Communications at Church House, Westminster.
News and How to Use It: What to believe in a Fake News world
Church Times Bookshop £17.10