Lee Coppola: Good Reporting Can Combat Distrust of the Media

Lee Coppola speaks about distrust of journalists with Michael Hill, president of the Chautauqua Institution, during a program at the Robert H. Jackson Center in Jamestown. Credits: David Kassnoff

ST. BONAVENTURE, NY- Good reporting practices can combat distrust of the media, according to a man who has long been a fixture in Western New York journalism.

“Journalists have to think deeper, scratch the surface more and find the meanings behind words that politicians or others say,” said Lee Coppola, retired dean of what-is-now-named the Jandoli School of Communication at St. Bonaventure University.

Coppola, a 1964 graduate of St. Bonaventure's journalism program, said he blames social media for heightening the anti-media mentality, citing the tendency to replace facts with opinions on social media outlets and the effortlessness of posting one’s words. To reverse the stigma, journalists must strive to be more accurate and fair, he added.

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“The media was trusted superbly 20 or 30 years ago,” Coppola said in an interview. “I think the trust of the media has eroded.”

Coppola spoke about distrust of journalists on Tuesday at a program at the Robert H. Jackson Center in Jamestown. Greg Peterson, the center’s co-founder, and Michael Hill, president of the Chautauqua Institution, also participated in the discussion.

During the program, Coppola said today’s “fake news” accusations could have an impact  similar to the Watergate scandal, which led to an increase in the number of people seeking to become journalists.

“It may convince people now’s a good time to join the fight and try to hold people accountable,” said Carole McNall, an assistant professor in the Jandoli School who attended Coppola’s talk.

Coppola spent 16 years as a reporter for The Buffalo News. He covered organized crime and the Witness Protection Program, and his reports inspired the 1980 film “Hide in Plain Sight.”

“The reason I wanted to be a journalist was because I was curious about what was going on in the world,” he said.

Coppola later worked as an investigative reporter for WIVB-TV and after graduating from the University of Buffalo Law School in 1983, became an assistant United States attorney in Buffalo. He served as the first dean of his alma mater’s journalism school from 1996 to 2011.

Coppola advises young journalists -- wherever they end up in the field -- to do their job to the best of their abilities.

“You’ll be able to convince people media is serving society and democracy,” he said.

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