A visitor to this site recently noted that it had not been updated since 2018 and wondered if I was still blogging. My apologies for not being clear when the focus of my work changed!
I’m actually writing more than ever, but I’m doing it through the Trusting News communications channels.
At Trusting News, we train journalists to demonstrate credibility and actively earn trust. It’s a natural extension of my audience engagement work, in that it emphasizes listening to and focusing on the public we aim to serve. We can’t effectively earn trust until we understand what gets in the way of trust in our own relationships with our communities.
We’ll be going over some basics of social media best practices — user behavior on different platforms, how to craft compelling posts, how to host lively conversations and how to boost engagement. We’ll talk about measuring success and deciding which platforms are right for you.
I was supposed to make a presentation this weekend to a joint gathering of the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association and the Inland Press Association. I’m not going to make it. And honestly, anything with the word “inland” in it sounds pretty good to me right now. I’m not there because Hurricane Irma is headed toward me, and I’m hunkering down.
I really love hearing about what journalists are up to. Especially now that I work by myself in a home office, I look forward to conversations that involve brainstorming or giving feedback on cool ideas.
There can be too much of a good thing, though. I get a lot of requests for people to pick my brain about their work or get feedback on a report or idea. And while I wish I could say yes to all of them, I do have a primary obligation to the projects, students and clients who pay my bills.
And yet … people are so interesting! I want to say yes! The days I spend interacting with smart people are my favorite days! Plus, I’ve grown immeasurably through my interactions with generous colleagues and strangers, and I enjoy paying that forward.
“For some reason I trust local reporters more than national reporters. Not sure why that is.”
“Local journalism is there for the right reasons.”
“Local news is more connected to what’s going on in my back yard. It is more factually based.”
That’s what readers, viewers and listeners said when asked specifically about their perceptions of local journalism. As part of the Trusting News project, my 28 partner newsrooms interviewed their own news consumers about how they decide what to trust. One of the questions asked covered expectations and perceptions of local news.
Those quotes are pretty awesome. But you need to also know that most folks didn’t get there on their own.
When local journalists were interviewing their own community members about trust, the conversation didn’t usually begin with mentions of local journalism. Even when sitting down with someone from their local newspaper, many people, when asked about trust, jumped straight to the topic of national political coverage.
When the topic of journalism comes up, people often don’t think first about coverage of their community’s arts events, high school sports, local government or business climate. They think first about “the media” — that impersonal, catch-all term that’s void of humanity and altruism.
Is there a connection between people’s politics and their trust in news? (Yes.) Do people’s race or age play a factor in what they trust? (Yes on race, less on age.) And do those factors influence how likely people are to spend money on news? (They sure do.)
As part of the Trusting News project, 28 partner newsrooms asked their audiences to tell them about their views on the credibility of news. They published a questionnaire asking their readers, listeners and viewers about their demographics and political leanings, and how many news organizations they support financially.
What we found can offer insight into the general attitudes and beliefs of people toward the value and credibility of news.
About the Trusting News project
The questionnaires were published as part of an interview project. We invited newsrooms to sit down for one-on-one interviews with their own news consumers to discuss how they decide what to trust, and the questionnaires helped those newsrooms find people across a spectrum of diversity — age, race, gender and political leanings — within their communities.
What we’ve learned, from the questionnaires and the interviews, is being used to create strategies newsrooms can adopt to demonstrate their trustworthiness. We’ll share those strategies soon, and we’ll be looking for newsrooms to help us test them.
If you’re interested in how your newsroom can enhance credibility and would like to hear more, please contact us.
Relationships take work. You don’t get intimacy without putting in some time. You don’t ask for favors without offering the equivalent yourself. You earn trust by being there consistently, and by listening.
The Trusting News project is basically a recipe for a genuine, two-way relationship with news consumers, rather than just an exchange of information. Relationships involve caring whether you’re meeting the needs of the other party — and being willing to adjust if you’re not. They involve knowing what people need from you and whether you’re meeting those needs.
The 14 newsrooms that helped test social strategies for building trust found that what’s true in real-life relationships is also true on Facebook. If you want users’ attention, loyalty and time, you have to earn it. If you want them to open up to you and speak well of you, you need to show you deserve it.
How do people decide what news is trustworthy? How can journalists influence what users consume and share on social media? And in the era of fake stories, when untruths often travel faster than the truth, what can credible journalists do to stand out?
When we began the Trusting News project in January 2016, we had no idea how the presidential campaign would evolve. We didn’t know the intentional spread of false information would play an even larger role in the information climate. We didn’t know Facebook’s algorithm would move toward favoring posts shared by individuals over those shared by pages, making it all the more important that news consumers help spread our content.
We just knew the issue of reclaiming the credibility of journalism was worthy of focused attention.
We started by identifying strategies used by other industries to build trust. We learned from people immersed in issues like patient-physician trust, nonprofit storytelling and corporate transparency. We read research on trust and accuracy from a variety of perspectives. We also talked to working journalists about where they saw the biggest gaps.
The biggest takeaway is that across the strategies, successful posts anticipated users’ needs, moods and motivations. They met people where they were. They demonstrated that journalists knew who they were talking to and how to best invite interaction.
Our last four hours together on Sunday were supposed to be about how journalists measure success — dotcom metrics, social metrics and impact measurement. But then an opportunity to do social journalism arose, and it’s just not in my nature to pass up the chance to get students into the field.
Tim Kaine held a rally directly outside the UF journalism school on Sunday afternoon, and I scrapped the last chunk of my class agenda and instead deployed the 17 students to do social coverage.
Nine students went to the rally to do social-first coverage. They told a variety of stories from the field, publishing to Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat. Eight students stayed in our newsroom/classroom, aggregating and curating posts from the rest of the team, searching for other community posts and fact-checking.
Lauren Rowlandtook the lead on a live blog on Storify. Her file was live as soon as our coverage started, and she updated continually for about two hours. Producing a live blog takes constant attention to searching and filtering. Jessica Small, Catie Flatley and Zoë Sessums spent their time finding, transcribing and funneling content into the various curations.
I’m sure most people in your newsroom could provide examples of some of your most-read stories. The one that got shared hundreds or thousands of times. The one that got linked from Google News. The one that keeps finding new audience, months after it originally published.
To be sure, there’s benefit in celebrating your wild successes.
But I think there might be more useful knowledge gained by spending time at the other end of metrics report. What coverage are you investing in that isn’t finding an audience?
Low readership numbers can be due to a lot of things:
Maybe a story was published at an awkward time and was pushed too quickly off its section page front.
Maybe the headline didn’t do it justice.
Maybe it didn’t get effectively (or at all) published to social platforms.
Maybe there’s a built-in audience for the story that would love it but just didn’t find it, and some outreach would be worthwhile. (Related post: Who’s the story’s audience?)
Maybe people got everything they needed from the social post or excerpt on the home page and didn’t feel compelled to click for more information.
And maybe the subject just didn’t interest your readers.
Regardless of which answer applies, don’t you want to know what you’re investing staff time in that is hardly getting seen? So you could then do something differently?
At times of such intense staffing shortages, wouldn’t you love to use data to know what you can stop doing?