Learnings from the Knight Commission on Media, Trust and Democracy 2017

December 20, 2017  • Communications and Society Program

As 2017 comes to a close, the Aspen Institute Communications and Society Program invites you to join us as we celebrate and reflect over an exciting year marked by thoughtful, constructive discussions on a range of issues. The following “2017 Year In Review” series offers highlights from the various programs as well as insight into 2018 programming. For more information, please visit our homepage and or follow us on Twitter or Facebook

Together, the Aspen Institute Communications and Society Program and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, have convened a blue-ribbon commission on Trust, Media and Democracy. Facing the current crisis of declining trust in American institutions — most notably 52% of Americans now report “not very much” to “none at all” in regard to their trust and confidence in the press [1]—this Commission seeks to:

  • Examine the causes and consequences of a collapse in trust in democratic institutions, with a focus on trust in the media, journalism and the information ecosystem.
  • Identify the perennial and emerging values and social obligations that should guide those who produce, distribute and consume news and information to ensure a functioning democracy.

In doing so, the Commission faces a range of questions from what factors are contributing to this decline in trust to how do citizens make assessments of truth and evaluate sources of information to what are the impacts of technology on information distribution and consumption and more. To answer such questions, the Commission, comprised of 26 members from the fields of media and journalism, technology and development, higher education, marketing and so on, will host a number of public discussions across the country.

Following an initial meeting amongst the commissioners in August, the Commission held its first public meeting at the New York Public Library in October. The Forum opened with a presentation from Ben Boyd (Edelman Public Relations) , highlighting the results from the 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer. Then, a two-part panel followed featuring danah boyd (Microsoft), Ari Fleischer (Fleischer Communications) and Claire Wardle (First Draft News) responding to questions regarding “Media and Trust”. Their comments provided insight on the development of social networks and how their representation has evolved through the use of online platforms; the decline of objectivity in media journalism and its impact on the public’s perception of partisanship bias within journalism; and the various forms of “problematic information” as they relate to societal conceptions of “fake news.”

The meeting concluded with a discussion on “Journalism and the Internet” between the Commissioners and Emily Bell (Tow Center for Digital Journalism), Eve Burton (Hearst) and Theodore B. Olson (Dunn & Crutcher LLP). This discussion led to a deeper understanding of the ways in which online media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter, now dictate the business of journalism, as well as how their impact is altering societal conceptions of media and how the First Amendment should be applied to journalism in this era. As a starting point for investigating these topics, Commissioners suggested developing research into the legal bases for online media platforms, as well as into how educational and training practices have adjusted to meet the demands of the changing media landscape. For complete details, please see our post, “Recap: New York City Forum“.

The second public meeting will be held in Palo Alto in January 2018. For additional details and to register for this event, please register here.

Regular updates from the Knight Commission can be found at the site “Trust, Media & Democracy” on We invite you to engage with us on this topic there.


[1] Guess, A., Nyhan, B., & Reifler, J. (2017). “You’re Fake News!” | The 2017 Poynter Media Trust Survey (p. 15). St. Petersburg, FL: The Poynter Institute.