Deborah Potter is sure of one thing: Public trust in journalism is disintegrating rapidly, and journalists cannot simply sit back and wait for something to change.
“There’s a quote by journalist Carl Bernstein that says something similar to: ‘All we have to do is our best work.’ I disagree,” said Potter, the 2018 spring T. Anthony Pollner Distinguished Professor. “In the world we’re currently living in, it’s not enough to simply put your head down and do good work as a journalist. We have to be deliberate, proactive. We have to do more to share a message that we deserve trust.”
Potter aims to confront this topic in her spring course “Journalism & Public Trust.” Students will explore the “fake news” phenomenon and the news media’s place in a democratic society. They will also investigate newsroom strategies and learn fact-checking techniques. Potter hopes all of this will help students explore answers to a fundamental question: “How do we maintain trust, and frankly, regain public trust?”
Potter had wanted to be a writer since high school. But as she watched a contentious national presidential election unfold during her first year of college at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Potter was drawn to broadcast and TV journalism.
“Watching stories happen in real-time gave a completely different sense of a story than reading it in print,” Potter said. “I was drawn to the fluidity.”
Potter spent more than a decade as American Journalism Review’s broadcast news columnist, served as CBS’s White House, State Department and Congressional Correspondent for 13 years, and reported on environmental issues and national politics as a network correspondent for CNN. She has led journalism workshops in the U.S. and around the world, co-authored a journalism textbook, and founded NewsLab, a non-profit journalism resource center in 1998.
Potter sees her professorship at UM as an opportunity to continue what she refers to as “the second major chunk” of her journalism career, in which she focuses on providing journalism-related education. Previously, Potter was a distinguished visiting professor in journalism ethics at the University of Arkansas, and curated radio and TV seminars as a faculty associate at the Poynter Institute.
The Pollner Professorship was established to honor the memory of Anthony Pollner, a 1999 graduate of the School of Journalism. After Anthony died in an accident in May 2001, his friends and family created an endowment that makes this professorship possible.
Tate Samata is finishing her fifth and final year at the UM School of Journalism, and will graduate this spring with a Bachelor of Arts in journalism and psychology minor. Tate’s journalistic focus is primarily photo and multimedia, but she is also passionate about writing, copy editing and social media.