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How “Behind the Story” cards affect readers’ trust in the news

March 3, 2020 | By Rande Price, Research Director – DCN @Randeloo

In an effort to provide more transparency in journalism, McClatchy, a local news publisher with a footprint in 30 markets, designed an information card to help readers better understand the reporting process. To evaluate its effectiveness three McClatchy newsrooms undertook a study to explore whether the placement of these informational cards on a news organization’s website affected readers’ recall of the card and trust in news.

The information cards, called Behind the Story (BtS), highlight why a topic is important to write about, how the story is written, and who the journalist interviewed. The Center for Media Engagement, in partnership with three McClatchy newsrooms: The Wichita Eagle, El Nuevo Herald and The Sacramento Bee, conducted research with over 300 participants to assess recall and efficacy of the BtS cards.

Overall, the findings show that, while the BtS card appealed to most readers, a majority of readers did not notice the presence of the card when placed within the context of an article. Importantly, however, when shown outside the context of an article, a majority of readers said the card would improve their trust in a news organization.

Recall

In all, 34% of respondents said they remembered seeing a section titled “Behind our Reporting” when the card was placed within the context of the article compared to 21% who recalled seeing the BtS card when placed at the bottom of the article. Although a higher percentage of people noticed the BtS card when it was placed in-line, the difference in overall recall is not statistically significant compared to the card appearing at the bottom of the article.

Interestingly, non-subscribers were significantly more likely to recall the card when it appeared in-line (40%) than subscribers (30%).

Trust

Placement of the BtS card, in-line or at the bottom of the article, did not impact participants ratings to the trustworthiness of the article, the news organization or the reporter in a significant matter. Overall, the study suggests that using a card designed to improve transparency may positively affect trust. However, newsrooms need to ensure that it’s noticeable.

Previous research from the Center for Media Engagement found that less than 10% of readers in three communities thought that their local newsrooms adequately explained how and why they decide what stories to cover.

With efforts like these, McClatchy is taking important and positive steps to help strengthen readers’ trust and negate concerns with misinformation and fake news. Fine tuning the placement of the BtS card and its messaging are encouraged. Future research should assess additional BtS designs, verbiage and continue to test best placement and overall impact on recall and trust metrics.

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