Ideas worth stealing: These strategies will help journalists earn news consumers’ trust

A project I’m so excited about is launching today! Here’s the blog post that’s up over at the Reynolds Journalism Institute, announcing the existence of

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?

rjilogobigWhen 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.

We turned what we learned into strategies we wish journalists would employ to use social media to build trust. Then, with the help of 14 news outlets, we tested those strategies and tracked how users responded. What we’ve learned can help journalists influence what the public chooses to engage with and pass along.

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.

Read the key findings, go deep on which strategies worked and search a database of almost 500 Facebook posts at

The strategy results include examples of what users responded to and what fell flat. You’ll also find tips on how to write and frame posts in a way that’s likely to connect with audiences, along with worksheets for each strategy to get started in your own newsroom.

Jump straight to ideas worth stealing. Look at posts that were especially successful, and ones that fell flat. Search by newsroom partner or by size of Facebook audience. Search just for live videos, still images or link shares. Or — one of my favorites — peruse posts involving comment interactions between journalists and users.

I hope the posts inspire you to more effectively communicate your value and your relationship to the people you aim to serve. I hope they inspire you to demonstrate that users can help set your agenda and that you value what they contribute.

Here are some of my favorites:

  • KLRU in Austin, Texas, created a Facebook group to continue a dialogue started at a public event they held focused on unity and civil rights. The group hosted meaningful conversations (and even spun off into a book club).
  • Would you be brave enough (or foolish enough) to invite online conversations about the Black Lives Matter movement? The Standard-Examiner in Ogden, Utah, has established a relationship with its community based on a consistent back-and-forth dialogue. That gave them the credibility they needed to host respectful conversations in a video series on topics like Black Lives Matter and guns in the community. That’s Jedi-level engagement.

Overall, posts that demonstrated a desire on the part of the audience to learn more about journalism, to interact with journalists or to help share information involved factors like these:

  • They were framed around what the organization could do for the user.
  • They were about topics people were already inclined to interact with.
  • They gave people something specific to react to.
  • They read like they were written by real people.
  • They invited people to be their best selves.
  • They respected the organization’s existing relationship with its users.

I invite you to learn from our 14 partner newsrooms at

I also invite you to get in touch with me at if you have ideas for future work on trust. And there’s still time to join the next phase of my work, in which journalists interview their own news consumers face-to-face about how they choose what to trust.


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