Regaining America's trust

$25 million gift will help UNC lead the way in restoring public trust in news

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I am happy to share some good news with my fellow SNPA members. My family and I especially want to share with you some of our thinking and reasoning behind our decision. All of us (Ben, Palmer, Olivia, Eliza and me) have made a commitment to donate $25 million to the University of North Carolina's School of Media and Journalism. 

This is the largest donation ever in the history of our family. We are lending our name and it will now be called the Hussman School of Journalism and Media. Here's why we are doing it.

First and foremost, we believe that quality journalism is essential to the future of America. Our family has been in the news business for 110 years, since 1909, primarily newspaper publishing. Community newspapers in America today face serious financial challenges. Despite doing everything we can think of to make our newspapers sustainable, we have to realize that there is a risk that most of the community newspapers in our country may not survive. We have no idea how news will be delivered to future generations. But we are convinced that however it is delivered or obtained, the bedrock of reporting and editing must be quality journalism. 

Second, we have seen an erosion of journalistic standards which have stood the test of time over many decades in America. As a result, public confidence and trust in the news media is at record low levels. We believe it's essential to return to these values to regain the public's trust.

Why the University of North Carolina? It has played an important role in our family for many years. Olivia, Eliza and I all graduated from there, and Eliza got her master's degree in journalism and mass communication there, too. My sister, Marilyn Hussman Augur, graduated from UNC, and so did her daughter, Margaret Augur Hancock. My other sister, Gale Hussman Arnold, attended summer school there. Our family goes back over 60 years with the school.

But our decision was far more important than just alumni loyalty. UNC has one of the top journalism schools in America. Almost every group that judges journalism schools rates it at or near the top. As they say nowadays, you can look it up. The William Randolph Hearst Foundation has had an annual competition for many years for students at accredited journalism schools throughout the country for recognizing excellence in subjects like writing, photojournalism, multimedia, etc. Four of the last five years, the UNC journalism school has won top honors among all schools. The school does both teaching and research, and it is multi disciplined, including advertising and public relations. It also has an outstanding dean in Susan Robinson King.

Alumni loyalty and an outstanding school of journalism are good reasons to support it. But our decision hinged on an even more important consideration. Two years ago, we became quite concerned with the erosion of journalistic standards in America. We were particularly concerned with statements made by some highly regarded journalists reflecting this erosion. We decided then that we needed to share with our readers and the public our core values. Before adopting them, we shared these values with editors, newspaper owners and journalism school educators.

Since February 2017, we have published a six-paragraph statement of core values on page 2 every day in all 10 of our daily newspapers. But we believe high standards are not enough. We need to be fully transparent by publishing these daily so our readers and the public can hold us accountable. 

In discussing these values with UNC's Dean Susan King, she endorsed them. She has now adopted them as the UNC School of Journalism and Media's values. To make that perfectly clear, this statement of values will be there daily, chiseled in granite in the lobby of the journalism school. They will be there for students, faculty and visitors to know exactly the core values embraced by the UNC School of Journalism and Media. 

Hopefully this is the first important step in regaining public trust. We believe UNC can be the leader for other schools of journalism in America to adopt similar statements of core values.

Some are familiar with these values, but for those who are not, we have included them.

We have written an op-ed column in the Wall Street Journal. We have advocated for this with other newspapers and CEOs of some of the largest news organizations in America. We plan to continue to advocate for both the school and these values. We believe the University of North Carolina's Hussman School of Journalism and Media can lead the way in beginning to restore America's trust in news.  

On behalf of Walter and Ben Hussman, Palmer Hussman, Olivia Hussman Ramsey and Eliza Hussman Gaines

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