Trust, but Verify

Trust But Verify – a Russian saying used by President Ronald Reagan

Yes, the title of this blog post is a phrase commonly associated with President Ronald Reagan as he pursued disarmament and normalized relations with the Soviet Union. (Apologies to all the lefties who are roiling as I invoke “the Gipper.”) However, I believe that this saying applies to the media landscape today. 

Trust vanquishes cynicism and bias. 

Verification quells healthy skepticism and natural curiosity and provides receipts. 

So with this in mantra on my mind, and armed with The Trust Project’s List of 8 Trust Indicators, I analyzed two websites, The Arizona Mirror and The East Arizona News.

The Arizona Mirror

Screenshot of the Arizona Mirror homepage
  • Expertise: The journalist is an expert 

All the articles feature professional journalists with experience in the areas and topics covered.

Screenshot of AZMirror reporters from website

Their reports are evidence-based, with the voices of credible stakeholders helping to frame the issues.

  • Labels: The purpose of the story is clear 

The stories’ headlines match their content. Although the Arizona Mirror is a progressive organization, its reporting reflects a commitment to journalistic standards. 

Screenshot – AZ Mirror story
  • References: You can find and access the sources 

Stories are well-sourced; those sources are identified by name, with hyperlinks to relevant materials.

  • Local: The journalist uses local knowledge 

The Arizona Mirror assembled a team of exemplary professionals from around the region, and their familiarity is evident in their reportage. In the article, Rosemont Mine project in southern Arizona faces pushback over water storage, freelance journalist and Tucson resident David Abbott includes many links and points of reference for the complicated story.

Screenshot of AZ Mirror freelance journalist David Abbott biography
  • Diversity: The story brings in many kinds of people 

The staff has women and men and includes Latinx and Indigenous heritage people with a range of professional experience. The commentary section is open to the community, though this opinion content skews to the left-of-center. Stories were inclusive and intersectional, including LGBTQ topics and marginalized groups, exemplified by this article posted yesterday – U.S. House hearing on extremism toward minorities turns into ‘defund the police’ debate. Note the photo is not a stock image; it was taken by AZ Mirror’s Chloe Jones.

Screenshot of AZ Mirror article
  • Actionable Feedback: The news organization allows readers to participate 

There are boxes like this around the site for visitors to email with questions or news tips.

Screenshot of the AZ Mirror “Contact us” button.

Like most websites, readers are invited to share content via email or social media. At the bottom of its articles, the Arizona Mirror also encourages readers to republish content according to Creative Commons guidelines.

screenshot of the AZ Mirror republish button
  • Methods: We can tell the process used to make the story 

The Arizona Mirror is transparent about its methods, funders, and progressive point of view. They adhere to the Society of Professional Journalists and the National Press Photographers Association guidelines. The Rosemont Mine story, mentioned above, included this correction to a minor detail that indicates a rigorous review process.

Screenshot of AZ Mirror correction
  • Best Practices: The journalist or news organization explains their ownership and standards 

The “about” page not only includes the standards and practices that the Arizona Mirror follows, but it includes a comprehensive list of its funders and links to their recent tax filings.

Top sheet of 2020 Federal Tax Filings

AZ Mirror is part of a group of local news organizations called States Newsroom (SN). The network consists of affiliates (sites created by SN) and partners (separate business entities supported by grants from SN). The network also maintains a Washington DC bureau for news on the federal level.

Screenshot States Newsroom homepage

This model affords AZ Mirror independence while offering the benefits of collaboration and content sharing.


The Arizona Mirror is a progressive news site that upholds journalism’s standards, practices, and traditions while employing a 21st-century business model. I failed to identify any staff or content created by African-Americans, so those are voices not being heard locally on a consistent basis – an area for improvement. Their ethics and privacy policies are comprehensive and readily available on their site. Based on the Trust Project’s indicators, I would consider the Arizona Mirror a credible news outlet despite its liberal stances and framing of issues.

The East Arizona News

Screenshot of The East Arizona News homepage
  • Expertise: The journalist is an expert 

There is very little of what could be considered journalism on this website. The two political stories on the front page of this Arizona “local news outlet” are supposedly from Washington, DC. However, they originated with The West Virginia Record, a news site that matches the East Arizona News’s tone and content. These articles by that site’s editor Chris Dickerson express right-wing bias. A former sports and entertainment writer, Dickerson studied journalism, but has no expertise covering politics.

  • Labels: The purpose of the story is clear 

No, the only clear thing was the agenda of the publisher. The homepage had this photo of West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin pointing to a sign.

Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) on the floor of the US Senate

There was also this list of “trending stories” –

Screenshot of Trending Topics from the East Arizona News

#3: A Fox and Friends appearance by Steve Gaynor, conservative candidate for Arizona governor (generated by press release )

#2: Nationwide theft statistics under this headline –

Enforcement officers in Eagar deal with one theft of motor vehicle parts or accessories in 2020

#1: A tweet by Kari Lake, another conservative candidate for Arizona Governor that linked to her Facebook page. When they lie to our children about this great nation 

Screenshot of Kari Lake for AZ Governor’s Facebook page
  • References: You can find and access the sources 

No, since there is no original reporting, the sources are unknown.

  • Local: The journalist uses local knowledge 

All the local stories that I saw came from press releases or credited East Arizona News in the byline. 

  • Diversity: The story brings in many kinds of people 

There was no evidence of diversity in any of the stories.

  • Actionable Feedback: The news organization allows readers to participate 

The East Arizona News says that they are responsive and encourage feedback from readers, but there does not appear to be a system or practical application of that policy.

  • Methods: We can tell the process used to make the story 

The process appears to be “copy, format, and post,” as this screenshot from their Ethics tab shows. Only the image changes.

Screenshot of Ethics stories – East Arizona News

The same story is generated weekly and scrolls back to November 2020.

  • Best Practices: The journalist or news organization explains their ownership and standards

The “about us” page of East Arizona News tells how the parent company, Metric Media, LLC “fills the void” after the decline of “legacy media” to provide local information and a platform for civic discourse. It may be more accurate to call The East Arizona News a bulletin board for curated local details and a clearinghouse for conservative propaganda.


According to a November 2021 story on the Editor & Publisher website titled, Exploiting the local news desert, owner Brian Timpone has connections with many local news entities across the country and a network of funding from conservative sources. The article goes into detail about Timpone’s media empire and his past troubles with story attribution exposed by the radio program This American Life in a 2012 segment titled, Forgive Us Our Press Passes. The New York Times also took Timpone and Metric Media to task for their political ties and advertising policies in a 2020 article.

NY Times article By Davey Alba and Jack Nicas

Based on my assessment of the content on the East Arizona News website (outdated and biased) and the information I have uncovered in my research, I would label this site as deceptive and untrustworthy as a news source. It looks like news, functions as a news site, even features the odd bit of helpful information, but if the United States is a local news desert, then this is no oasis. 

It is a mirage. 


The news industry faces significant challenges and new business models must arise to meet the moment. The Arizona Mirror and the East Arizona news are each part of nationwide networks, at the opposite ends of the political spectrum. Both share content from affiliates, partners and fellow travelers, but only one is applying journalistic standards and practices. Only one is news.

This post comes full circle in a reckoning with the concept of “trust, but verify.” A cursory glance at the analyses and conclusions in this blog post could be dismissed by conservative cynics as “opinion laced with personal bias.” As if I’m doing my bit to prop up the “liberal agenda.” My leftist leanings don’t change the “facts on the ground,” just as Reagan’s political philosophy (as personally objectionable as it was to me), did not impede progress he and Gorbachev made toward ending the Cold War.

10/11/1986 President Reagan and Soviet General Secretary Gorbachev meet at Hofdi House during the Reykjavik Summit Iceland

The two leaders adopted a framework for our countries that afforded them assurances of good faith efforts and targeted areas for improvement. I employed objective criteria to assess the trustworthiness of these two websites and identify weaknesses.

I trusted that both websites offered valid news content, but only the Arizona Mirror ticked enough boxes of the 8 trust indicators. The East Arizona News did not.

This isn’t opinion. I have receipts. Quoting Reagan one last time:

“Facts are stubborn things.”

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