Fresno State has established the Institute for Media and Public Trust to study media literacy and “fake news,” and develop strategies to restore trust in all forms of media.

In announcing the Institute, Fresno State President Joseph I. Castro said the First Amendment will be at the center of its work.

“The Institute will study the current state of newsgathering and reporting and develop solutions to the challenge of credibility in the news media, its impact on voters and their participation in our democratic institutions. It will also examine how social media networks impact these issues,” Dr. Castro said.

The Institute will be housed in the Department of Media, Communications and Journalism in the university’s College of Arts and Humanities. Jim Boren, the former executive editor of The Fresno Bee, will be the inaugural executive director of the Institute.

“Media distrust has been going on for many decades, but the intensity increased after the 2016 election,” Boren said. “The public is clamoring for solutions, and media outlets across the board are looking for strategies to rebuild public trust.”

Boren joined the MCJ faculty this spring as an adjunct instructor to teach advanced journalism courses.

“Jim is the perfect person to head up this important effort,” said Professor Betsy Hays, the incoming chair of the MCJ Department. “His commitment to top-notch journalism has been unwavering for more than four decades, and this is the ideal way for him to continue his legacy. Jim is an alumnus of our program, which makes this full-circle effort even more meaningful.”

Dr. Castro said one of the Institute’s first programs will deal with freedom of speech. Seminars will discuss the First Amendment on college campuses in the age of social media, and how it relates to academic freedom, tenure and employment law. The sessions will grapple with the notion of civility in public discussions, including the core question, “How can we disagree passionately, yet respectfully?”

A key goal of the institute is to increase media literacy among news consumers. Through community engagement and outreach activities, the institute will increase public knowledge, acceptance and expectations for consuming news content. There will be public outreach and educational events that will focus on strengthening democracy and civic engagement through better journalism and strengthening the analytical skills needed to be effective news consumers.

“Increased media literacy is paramount to a thriving democracy,” said Dr. Saúl Jimenez-Sandoval, dean of the College of Arts and Humanities. “The Institute will partner with organizations with a wide range of diverse perspectives to take a holistic approach to providing news consumers with the tools they need to evaluate legitimacy and accuracy.”

In addition, the Institute will focus on identifying best practices in journalism that garner public trust. It plans to offer grants to students and faculty (locally, regionally and nationally) to pursue research programs that focus on media literacy, news consumption, media and public trust, newsgathering, journalism and democracy, and other related subjects. As the work of the Institute moves forward, plans include connecting with MCJ students to discuss, debate and test research findings.

In addition, the Institute will work with news organizations to increase the transparency of the news-gathering process, with a goal of increasing the public’s trust in all forms of journalism.

Initial funding for the Institute comes from the university. Additional fundraising is underway. Ultimately the Institute will be self-sustaining via grants and donations from supporting individuals and organizations.

For more information about the Institute for Media and Public Trust, call the MCJ Department at 559.278.2087. Boren is available for interviews with the media to discuss the Institute.