Learning About Nonprofit Excellence

Hawaii Community Foundation
And that’s the way it is ... or is it?

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A conversation with Patti Epler, Honolulu Civil Beat; Jose Fajardo, Hawaii Public Radio; and Leslie Wilcox, PBS Hawaii

When legendary anchorman Walter Cronkite signed off his CBS nightly newscasts with the phrase “And that’s the way it is,” we had no reason to question otherwise, especially from the man often cited at the time as “the most trusted name in America.”

Fast-forward to today, where news arrives—fast and furious—on many media platforms, and some of it is without a basis in fact. The phrase “fake news” has become sufficiently widespread that lexicographers have now added it to dictionaries.

Against this backdrop, Hawaii Community Foundation assembled a panel of nonprofit media professionals to speak to an eager audience of donors and partners about the approach being taken locally to help community members sort out fact from falsehood. The event is one of several that HCF organizes throughout the year on issues of interest to its legacy givers.

HCF’s Senior Director of Communications Lynelle Marble posed a pivotal question to Patti Epler (Editor/GM of Honolulu Civil Beat), Jose Fajardo (President/GM of Hawaii Public Radio), and Leslie Wilcox (CEO/President of PBS Hawaii): “How can you tell the difference between fake and real news?”

All three encouraged news consumers to educate themselves, starting with verifying that they are getting their news from a fact-checked news source, like the ones they represent. “Civil Beat adheres to the standards and ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists and Associated Press,” explained Epler. “We also trust the reporters and editors who work for us.”

Trust, it seems, is the greatest currency of all for a media outlet. Says Jose Fajardo of HPR, “We double-check our sources, because listeners trust us and we would not violate that.” Fajardo distinguishes the work of his organization from commercial broadcasts where “there’s a need for speed” that can shortchange the vetting process. “At HPR, it’s not about speed, it’s about quality. We take our time to get our stories right and present both sides of an issue.”

Longtime print and broadcast journalist Leslie Wilcox does her own due diligence when it comes to breaking news: “I vet everything that I read and approach the information I come across with both hope and skepticism.” She’s watched recent policy changes by news institutions like the New York Times that now call out lies when they come across them, but she also acknowledges this reality: “More and more people are willing to hear the facts but believe in different truths.”

Wilcox is seeking a different level of truth at PBS Hawaii—one that comes from telling real stories that touch people’s lives. Through HIKI NO, the popular weekly student news show with a network of 97 schools across the islands, she’s noticed that “members of Generation Z care deeply about two things: authenticity and identity.”

The views of younger generations are being tapped, as well, at Civil Beat with its Millennial Advisory Committee and at HPR through its Generation Listen initiative. And, perhaps as an antidote to the barrage of national and international news, there seems to be a strong appetite at PBS, HPR, and Civil Beat for local programs.

Individuals are deciding which programs they want; when they want to watch, listen or read; and on what device. They are not only becoming curators of their own news consumption but also becoming their own authorities on distinguishing fact from fiction.

Maybe one day soon, we’ll look back on the fake news phenomenon and say, “And that’s the way it WAS.”