Local journalists, does your community see you as “the media”?

“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.

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This is the question from the Trusting News interview guide that asked about local news.

 

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.

One of the highlights of this Trusting News work has been seeing how eager so many regular people (read: non-journalists) are to talk about trust in news. When my partner newsrooms published a questionnaire asking about trust in news, 8,728 people responded. (More than 2,000 were readers of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune alone.)

Then when those same newsrooms singled folks out for interviews, 81 people — some of whom don’t typically trust the news —sat down for an hour or more to explain their personal priorities and expectations. That’s quite an investment of time, and I’m grateful.

I’m excited to start sharing the insights from all that user research. One theme I’m most interested in is consistent with previous project findings: Journalists need to invest in telling the story of what they do. And differentiating themselves from “the media” is a great place to start.

(RELATED POST: Close encounters of the media bias kind)

I love it when journalists explain the value they offer, like Jay Allred of the Richland Source did this summer. He wrote in a column: “The team at the Source consistently serves a mix of fairly reported news that informs – but more importantly – nourishes the community it serves.”

I love it when news organizations have clear mission statements. The Oklahoman updated theirs recently. It reads: “We are Oklahomans. Our goal is to help make our state a better place to live, work and raise a family.”

But I had to really hunt for that statement of purpose on the Oklahoman’s website. How would a reader even know it’s there? And how many of the Richland Source’s readers saw that one column Allred wrote?

What I want newsrooms to do is inject their value statements into their daily work. I want us to be continually reminding people that we’re here for them. That we’re their neighbors, and we’re on the community’s side.

(RELATED POST: What have journalists done for you lately?)

What if in our social media posts, in our story lead-ins on air and in our text stories, we found ways to inject statements like these.

Our only agenda is to … (help you understand your community, help our community thrive).

We show up to work each day because …

We feel a responsibility to …

We don’t have an ax to grind or an agenda to advance. What drives us is …

We highlight our commonalities, not just our divisions. We’re here to talk about life in our community, not about politics.

What if we looked for opportunities within our journalism, not just as an add-on, to remind people we’re not just “the media”?

Will you join me for the next phase of our Trusting News experiments? You’ll get access to a bunch of insight and advice, plus insights into what’s working for the other newsroom partners. Apply here, and I’ll send you more information.

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