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Strategies to help newsrooms build trust with audiences

January 12, 2022 | By Rande Price, Research VP – DCN @Randeloo
two cranes in fog, one more visible in foreground

Trust is a crucial driver of consumer engagement, especially in news reporting. Ed Williams, the CEO, Edelman, UK, and Ireland, notes that trust closely correlates to our sense of happiness. “The amount of trust that people are able to place in the institutions that govern or inform their lives accords closely with their sense of happiness,” he elaborates. “So, in a broad, societal sense, it matters whether or not our media is trusted.”

Unfortunately, recent studies show trust in the news media continues to decline. Edelman’s Trust Barometer 2021 shows trust in all news sources is at a record low with social media (35%), owned media (41%), and traditional media (53%). Gallup research finds trust in the news media news at 36%, down four percentage points from 2020.

In a new report, The Reuters Institute’s lead researchers take a deeper dive into the questions of trust in the news media. Specifically, Reuters explores how the news media can build trust with its audience. The report showcases discussions with 54 individuals from a mix of small, local, and niche online publications to large, industry-leading brands in the US, UK, Brazil, and India.

news audience trust compass diagram

Concerns in the newsroom

The report details journalists’ frustration with their newsrooms’ inabilities to build trust with the public. Smaller media organizations also spoke about their concerns and their lack of control over the way audiences interacted with their brands.

They also view Facebook, Twitter, Google, WhatsApp, and YouTube negatively and believe these platforms cause increasing distrust in the news media.

Breadth and depth face fierce competition

Journalists believe the quality and depth of their reporting are the main reasons audiences trust their news organization. However, many news media companies look to social platforms for scale. Doing so often adds attention-grabbing headlines and a disconnect with the content. 

Rohan Venkat, Deputy Editor at Scroll (India) responds, ‘It’s something that we find quite hard, and we have to keep innovating in trying to convey that the format, the medium, is more complex than just what the headline contains.” Many journalists are less interested in chasing after reach and scale on platforms and want to build a strong relationship with their audience. 

Finding your audience

Maintaining a strong connection with loyal readers is a priority for most newsrooms. However, publishers often disregard harder-to-reach and wary audiences. It doesn’t help that there are few incentives to build trust with an uninterested – and sometimes antagonistic – audience.

Many journalists feel it may be easier for publishers to change the minds of readers resembling their audience. However, if those most critical of the news media and its journalists are left untouched, they will continue to spread distrust in media news.

The research participants identified strategies to help build trust with audiences. The strategies include:

  • Maintaining a focus on accuracy. Differentiating fact from opinion is critical in building and keeping audience trust. News publishers should use fact-checking as a key differentiator.  
  • Using editorial initiatives to cater to audiences who are underserved, overlooked, or criticized by the press.
  • Ensuring transparency about reporting practices, editorial stance, and journalists’ backgrounds. Disclosing the identities of those producing the news can also help.
  • Engaging in partnerships with other news or civic organizations. Offering practical advice to an audience centered around consumer products, recipes, and other information relevant to daily life.

Journalists and news publishers are finding ways to stand out and engage audiences. Creating, experimenting, and analyzing content in different formats, such as audio, visual, and text can offer insight into the impact on trust and distrust. Notably, the publishers need to incentivize the content most likely to build trust with audiences.

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