Explaining the Reporting Process: Being transparent will help newspapers gain the trust of readers.

Author:Tornoe, Rob
Position:Digital publishing

It's hard to go a month these days without seeing yet another report decrying the lack of trust readers have in everyday journalism.

There is no question that the relationship between journalists and the public is on shaky ground. While it is true that partisan bad actors (including the man who currently resides at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.) purposefully sow mistrust in media companies and reporting for their own private benefit, it appears a lot of what is driving a lot of the mistrust of journalism is a basic lack of understanding of what goes into reporting a story.

For instance, 60 percent of all respondents in a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted for the Columbia Journalism Review believe reporters are often paid by their sources. Forty-one percent said they were less likely to believe a story if it contained anonymous sources.

'The evidence is there that too many people think that when it comes to anonymous sources, that even journalists themselves don't know who those people are," said Joy Mayer, the project director for Trusting News, which works with newsrooms to help demystify trust in journalism. "Just the term 'anonymous sources' is not really understood."

While it might seem like a Sisyphean task to attempt to educate readers on the very basics of news coverage, researchers have uncovered at least one simple and straightforward method that even the smallest newsroom can implement in their reporting.

Two words, 12 letters: Explainer box.

According to a new study from the Center for Media Engagement at the University of Austin, doing something as simple as adding an explainer box offering an overview of your reporting process can immediately improve a reader's trust of not only your story, but your entire news organization.

The research, done on behalf of Trusting News and completed in February, centered on two stories previously published by two of the organization's partners: USA Today and the Tennessean, who mocked up an explainer box for each story.

The Tennessean story was about a viral Facebook post that led people to falsely believe a veteran had been declined medical care, while USA Today's story focused on Amazon's search to find a location for its second headquarters. The explainer box reporters and editors at USA Today came up with included three main components: Why they're doing the story, how they reported the story and how reporters took steps to be fair.

Half the participants received aversion of one of the stories...

To continue reading