State news executives gather to work on trust in age of disinformation

Former Attorney General Bill Barr speaks to the California News Publisher’s Association in Sacramento on Wednesday, Feb. 1. (Photo by Rahul Lal, CNPA)

California News Publishers Association members hear from pointed critics and strong supporters in a Sacramento conference

PUBLISHED: February 5, 2023 at 7:00 a.m. | UPDATED: February 5, 2023 at 7:00 a.m.

Trust was the buzzword at this year’s annual gathering of the California News Publisher’s Association.

Nearly 200 news and media executives attended the three-day Capital Conference at the Kimpton Sawyer Hotel in Sacramento that ended Thursday.

Attendees also included lawmakers, lawyers and subject matter experts who came together to discuss the public’s trust in media in a time of rising misinformation and disinformation.

“It was a terrific three-day event bringing publishers and editors from around the state to engage around the most important issue that faces our democracy today, and that is the proliferation of dis- and misinformation,” said Charles Ford Champion II, president and CEO of CNPA.

Guest speakers included author-journalist Brian Karem, former Attorney General Bill Barr, Real Clear Politics co-founder and President Tom Bevan, political strategist and former White House advisor David Axelrod and Google’s Global Vice President of News Richard Gingras.

Speakers did not hold back, with Karem promising at the outset of his remarks that his goal was to challenge everyone in the room. He then went on to urge California’s top media executives to get back to the basics of journalism and do better, including more aggressive reporting on government officials and fewer clickbait stories. Along the way, he offered plenty of colorful anecdotes from his own career and from his book, “Free the Press.”

Barr offered polite but strident criticism of what he described as the media’s relentless negative coverage of President George H.W. Bush and the one-sided, overblown coverage of Russian interference in the 2016 election. Barr is one of only two people to have served twice as attorney general – once under George H.W. Bush and most recently for President Donald Trump. In his remarks, Barr defended Trump but made it clear he did not believe the 2020 presidential election was stolen. He called for more balanced, less partisan reporting on policy and politics.

Gingras said news organizations need to develop new strategies for engaging readers in the digital age and touted Google’s support of the news industry, downplaying concerns that Google’s control of digital ad markets and use of news content to fuel its own ad sales has been a major cause of media disruption.

Axelrod, who described himself as “probably the most non-partisan partisan” and stressed the need for a common set of facts in light of the dangers posed by active disinformation campaigns. He also discussed the 2028 presidential prospects of two prominent Californians, Vice President Kamala Harris and Gov. Gavin Newsom, both of whom are likely presidential candidates in the 2028 race. Axelrod highlighted issues he thought each would struggle to overcome, including that they’re from California and that might not work well for them nationally.

In addition to the speeches,CNPA recognized the contributions of state lawmakers who have worked to aid the news industry, including Assemblymembers Ash Kalra and Blanca Rubio and Sen. Toni Atkins.

“These lawmakers rallied to support our industry and helped to ensure we are able to continue delivering our print publications to readers eager to receive news every day to their doorsteps,” Champion said. “Without their aid, we would doubtless have fewer newspapers in California today.”

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