4 strategies newsrooms can try to build trust

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Story by Allie Kirkman, Ball State University
Photos by Robby General, Ball State University

It is no secret to journalists that public confidence in news organizations is on the line as only 32 percent of Americans say they have a great deal or fair amount of trust in the media.

The Trusting News Project, commissioned by the Reynolds Institute and Knight Foundation, sheds light on this topic by providing journalists with the numbers and tools they need to bridge the gap between journalists and news consumers.  The topic was explored Sunday in a early session of the 2017 News Leadership Conference.

The project worked with 44 newsrooms to collect data from different media audiences across the United States. Throughout the duration of the three-phase project, 8,728 user questionnaires were answered and 81 in-depth interviews were conducted by journalists, focusing on how news consumers decided what to trust in the news.

Here’s what the Trusting News Project found:

  • People who answered the questionnaire who identified as “liberal” had higher trust in the news than those who said they were “conservatives.”
  • People of color have lower trust in the news than white people.
  • Females are significantly more trusting than men.
  • Two-thirds of respondents said they financially invest in at least one news organization.

“It turns out that people [news consumers] are worried about this too. They want to talk to us about it,” said Joy Mayer, engagement strategist from Reynolds Journalism Institute. “I was overwhelmed by how many people feel the same or similar urgency to this who don’t work in journalism. People who believe in the importance of journalism feel a stake in it – even people who say they don’t trust us.”

Based on these findings, the Reynolds Journalism Institute put together a list of tips for newsrooms to try in order to increase the trust amongst journalists and readers.

Strategies for combating this “trust problem,” according to the Trusting News project:

  1. Show how you are distinct from “the media”
    • Differentiate yourself/newsroom from the impersonal, generic, misunderstood cultural phenomenon.
    • Look for chances to explain who you are, what you do and why. State your value statements, motivations and purpose.
  2. Describe your ethics and funding
    • Look for chances in the newsroom to tell your readers how funding does and doesn’t influence coverage.
    • Find ways to prove that you are not controlled by corporate interests and focused on clicks and ratings.
    • Explain how your newsroom fact checks to increase transparency.
    • Always clearly state corrections when needed.
  3. Explain your process and demonstrate balance
    • Explain your reporting process by showing people evidence of thoughtful, fair, deep reporting.
    • Label your work and differentiate fact from opinion.
    • Point out your consistency to show that you are fairly reporting. An example can be found in candidate coverage.
  4. Show who you are and be accessible
    • Invite users to know the people producing the news.
    • Include reporter bios – readers research and look for bias and signs of credibility.
    • Look for specific ways to invite feedback and conversation – this can be done through comments.

“Trust is a long game,” Mayer said. “We are not going to solve this overnight.”

Allie Kirkman is a junior at Ball State University. She graduates in December 2018. Her email is aekirkman@bsu.edu.

Robby General is a senior at Ball State University. He graduates in May 2018. His email is rjgeneral@bsu.edu.

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