Spring Pollner Professor Deborah Potter Teaches Students About Journalism and Trust

Spring 2018 Pollner professor Deborah Potter. Photo by Tate Samata.

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.

When she isn’t teaching, odds are you can find her downhill skiing. Here, Potter is at Lookout Pass with professor Denise Dowling after their first week of spring semester.

“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. 


Pollner Professor Cheryl Carpenter: Journalism, and Democracy, Need Anonymous Sources

Photo by Jamie Drysdale.

Cheryl Carpenter, the T. Anthony Pollner Distinguished Professor this semester at the School of Journalism, told a crowded University Center Theater Monday that journalists should use every tool at their disposal, including anonymous sources.

“The more experience I have as an editor and a journalist and a leader of a newsroom, the less likely I am to rely only on rules. I’ve been around supervisors who did manage with rules and in fact, I’ve had employees who wanted rules,” she said. “It’s easier. It’s easier to say to a newsroom: no more anonymous sources.

“And, I would just tell you that I think that that is a simple answer that comes at an astronomical cost of asking someone to suspend their good judgement. You want journalists, you want your good employees, to use their intuition, their experience, their good questions and their gut to figure out fake from real.”

Carpenter, the Washington, D.C. bureau chief for the national news organization McClatchy, talked about her prominent role in the coverage of the Panama Papers and how careful and diligent journalists should be when dealing with leaks and anonymous sources.

“We owe readers this: That when we accept anonymous sources we need to make sure that we are not being used or duped or fooled,” she said.

In her lecture, titled “Confidential Sources: Can Journalism Live Without Them?,” Carpenter also talked about the role of anonymous sources in the Trump era, and the serious responsibility journalists undertake when using them.

“So, while you will hear that reporters and editors cannot be trusted, that what we’re doing is fake, that we’re bad people, let’s all hope and pray that that makes us all more resolved about our mission and in serving readers responsibly,” Carpenter said. “I ask you all this evening: consider the greater good that comes from this messy process called journalism. Know that we serve you better when we use every tool to get to what happened. You should never wish for a more timid press in this country but one that feels responsible to you, and to the distinct and democratic ideals in this great experiment called the United States.”

You can watch her lecture here:

T. Anthony Pollner Lecture_10/16/17_Part1 from Montana Journalism on Vimeo.

T. Anthony Pollner Lecture 10/16/17_Part 2 from Montana Journalism on Vimeo.

And, here are some more photos by Jaime Drysdale from the event:

The School of Journalism created the Pollner professorship in 2001 in memory of T. Anthony Pollner, a UM journalism alumnus who died two years after graduating. The Pollner endowment allows the school to bring a distinguished journalist to campus for a full semester to teach a course and to mentor students at the Montana Kaimin.