In an age when public faith in the news media hangs by a thread, the manifestation of courage, excellence, and a commitment to truth within journalism has never been of more critical significance. At the junction of this crossroad was the PRSA-NY’s Nov. 15 Big Apple PR Awards held in the pulsating metropolis of New York City, where the night was heralded by Richard Edelman, awarding Bret Stephens, a New York Times opinion columnist and Editor-in-Chief of Sapir, the coveted Daniel J. Edelman award. This epochal recognition, only in its second year, is attributed to professionals who are exemplars of bravery and proponents of integrity and excellence in journalism.
The evening was sprinkled with anecdotes and revelations, introducing a night etched with memories. The award, named after Edelman’s father, a “New York kid” with roots in public relations, carries the legacy of a devoted journalist with unmatched prowess. The mirthful narrative of his first employer’s perception of his capabilities as, “hmm, psychological warfare, you look like you could do PR” echoed through the room to Edelman’s delight.
The award recipient, Stephens, post his introduction spoke profoundly about the significance of trust, a term synonymous with the Edelman brand. Hailing the invaluable Trust Barometer developed by Edelman, he conveyed, “Trust is essential not only to our lives but also to the survival of nations.” A comparison of high-trust and low-trust societies bestowed a profound insight into the various societal fabric across the globe.
However, the crux of his speech revolved around the dwindling public trust in the news media. Despite its falling reputation, Stephens critiqued how the news media self-regard continues to be unvaryingly high. He delved into the exogenous reasons for this reputation crisis – the onslaught of cable news, the spread of social media, rampant propagation of misinformation, and a general loss of trust, leading to a shocking depiction of the current state of the media landscape.
Staying true to the adage, “Physician heal thyself,” Stephens urged media professionals to comprehensively focus on their primary role – an unerring provision of reliable information and independent analysis to the public. He critiqued the mainstream media’s rampant obsession with celebrity culture and intellectual conformity. At the same time, he acknowledged his own set of biases. He emphasized, however, that unlike his contemporaries, he offers honesty, independence, and preferable judgment over objectivity.
Tying back to his stupendous respect for Edelman and the brand’s trust-centric ideology, he encouraged media members not to succumb to the cliché that trust, painstakingly built over years, could dissolve in an instant, tagging the journey of redeeming trust as essential albeit laborious.
The urgent call for an ethical, trust-based revolution in the media landscape completed the award ceremony, with all hearts pulsating with the shared echo of Stephens’ concluding words. Now, “more so than ever, a flourishing and free society needs a media that understands it’s proper role and regains, hour after hour, day after day, the public trust”. As the world collectively grapples with fact-starved narratives and a media landscape clouded with bias, the need to return to honest, independent journalism has never been more pertinent.