CAMP 2016: Trust in the media is low, but journalists can turn it around

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A team from the American Press Institute, including, from left, Jane Elizabeth, Katie Kusko, Liz Worthington and Laurie Beth Harris, led a workshop on trust and journalism.

Story and photo by Sarah Ellis, 2016 JAWS Fellow

The media and the public don’t have a great relationship these days. Trust is low.

“If you’ve seen the Gallup polls year after year after year about which institutions people trust, journalism is way down there,” said Jane Elizabeth, of the American Press Institute, told JAWdesses attending the “Trust Us, We’re Journalists!” workshop on Oct. 30 at JAWS CAMP 2016 in Roanoke.

API, a nonprofit think tank in Washington, D.C., that aims to tackle challenges in media, surveyed and observed news consumers around the country about their attitudes on trust and the media. Bias, wrong facts and offensive content all erode trust and turn people away from news organizations, API found through its research. “Trust in media is not very high,” Jane said.

But there are steps journalists can take to restore trust between us and the public. Jane led an API team — Laurie Beth Harris, Mel Jones, Liz Worthington, Amy Kovac-Ashley and Katie Kutsko — in challenging JAWS members to identify ways to strengthen relationships with our audiences. Two ideas topped a list of suggestions from attendees: Diversify our newsrooms to better reflect our communities, and become more transparent about reporting our processes.

One JAWdess talked about the “Spotlight” effect: The movie chronicling investigative reporting by The Boston Globe prompted many people to ask, “Is that really what it’s like?” People might be more willing to trust news if they know how it was reported.

For news consumers, trust is about more than just getting the facts right. Timeliness, conciseness and in-depth reporting also are very important. People’s trust is also dependent on online factors such as how easy it is to find news and how quickly your website loads, API found.

And social media, where we’re all scrambling to have our content noticed, is a place of conflict for many news consumers. While more than half of people who responded to the API survey get most of their news from social media, most are skeptical about what they find. Facebook is the predominant news platform, but also the least trusted.

People are more likely to trust news they find on social media if they know and trust the original source, regardless of who posted the story on their media feeds. That’s one reason it’s important to build trust in your name brand and logo, Liz said.

The trust factor has a big influence on your organization’s financial bottom line, the women of API said. People who trust a source are more likely to share content, follow you, use your apps and subscribe to you.

In addition to newsrooms becoming more transparent and more reflective of diverse communities, news organizations and reporters can also build greater trust with their audiences and restore credibility if they:

  • Invite the community into the newsroom by using simple tools such as Facebook Live to put faces to bylines. And host forums to allow the community to talk back to reporters about issues they cover.
  • Consider adding a “corrections” link to their homepage and a public editor to write about and discuss strengths and areas that need improvement in the organization’s coverage.