Colorado Public Radio wrote a column about how the newsroom planned to cover the 2020 election. The post starts off strong by addressing the perception that news has an institutional bias. “At CPR News, our mission is to serve all Coloradans, not a partisan sliver. As the election approaches, we wanted to explain more thoroughly what we’re doing to earn your trust every day.” It then lists the questions it will address and links to each, which accomplishes two things: It lets readers on the page skip to a section they’re interested in and it lets the staff use the links to answer specific questions as they come up in stories and social posts.
The Green Bay Press Gazette wrote a story detailing it’s “Letters to the Editor” process ahead of the 2020 Election. In the guidelines, the newsroom states it’s purpose with publishing political letters earlier in the year than they normally would: “We will publish letters to the editor related to local, state and national campaigns. With many citizens voting early, we want the conversation to begin sooner than normal.” This work was done independently from Trusting News but embodies the work we do.
The Colorado Sun wrote a columnn about their newsroom’s approach to the 2020 elections, which included how they work to be fair, why they are trustworthy and how they decide what election news to cover — and not cover. “Our mission is to inform more than infuriate by telling stories that hold elected officials accountable and help readers better understand what’s happening within the state’s democratic institutions and political arena,” the column reads. “This particularly applies to our 2020 election coverage.” This work was done independently from Trusting News but embodies the work we do.
As journalists, it’s not our job to protect the public from information that is hard to hear or might increase their stress. But it is worth considering whether our journalism contributes to or assuages their anxiety. We can choose to air a highlight reel of chaos, or we can choose to provide calm, measured context. As this year’s election unfolds, that means reminding the public what we expect to see, what is unusual, what safeguards are in place, how long it will likely take for votes to be counted and what they can do to protect their own vote and stay informed. A significant chunk of your audience is probably exhausted by news coverage. Back in February, a Pew Research Center survey showed that two-thirds of U.S. adults are worn out by the news. And it’s fair to say the volume of news hasn’t decreased this year! So, how can journalists respond to that mood in a way that respects the experience of consuming their product? In a crowded, exhausting information landscape, how can your journalism stand out as a responsible, important part of your audience’s information diet? More from this edition can be found here and to receive the tips in your inbox each week click here.
How do you decide what to cover? How do you work to be fair? What sources do you trust? When it comes to elections coverage, the kind of transparency we advocate for is especially important. You’re working (really hard, we imagine) to provide a public service and contribute to a healthy democracy, and your audience should know that. Take some inspiration from this FAQ that Colorado Public Radio put together about election coverage. We’ll share some highlights here, but the whole thing is recommended reading. More from this edition can be found here and to receive the tips in your inbox each week click here.
We talk about how elections work all the time in our reporting, but do you ever notice how a lot of those explanations are often woven into the middle of stories? They’re sandwiched between good quotes and are part of a larger tale we’re telling. That’s not always bad, of course. A good story that has characters and is engaging can grab people’s attention and keep them reading or watching or listening. But, does it help them understand the topic we are covering in the best way? While trying to tell a story, are we providing them with the basic definitions and explanations they need to really understand the story in the first place? More from this edition can be found here and to receive the tips in your inbox each week click here.
At Trusting News, we’re often asked by newsrooms how we know our strategies work. It’s an important question. We’re always happy to point to examples of what newsrooms say is effective but we’re also especially grateful when we have the chance to work with academic researchers. Through a series of focus groups, Trusting News and the Center for Media Engagement found that TV newsrooms can build trust with their audiences by explaining why a story is covered, providing additional resources at the end of stories and inviting audience participation. More from this edition can be found here and to receive the tips in your inbox each week click here.
Community Impact Newspaper reporter Emma Freer wrote a column explaining to readers the paper’s coverage process when it comes to reporting on new businesses opening, closing and relocating in the community. The column explains the ways they find out about businesses opening or closing, how they confirm the information and what goes into publishing the story. Oftentimes, audiences also assume that money is involved in the coverage of local businesses. To level up, the organization could’ve also set the record straight by stating that money is not a factor when making these decisions. This work was done independently from Trusting News but embodies the work we do.
ProPublica wrote a thoughtful explanation of why they decided to publish a disturbing video of a suspect who died while in police custody. The explanation also addresses the ethics of publishing their investigation without family cooperation: “In the end, we have come down on the side of giving the fullest possible account of what our story terms “a recurrent tragedy — a person in mental crisis dying in law enforcement custody. This video could be traumatizing to those who see it. It depicts the harsh treatment of yet another person of color at the hands of law enforcement. Some have argued that the media should stop releasing video of law enforcement officials inflicting harm on black or brown bodies. While recognizing that viewpoint, we hope that the significance of this story outweighs the pain it causes.” The newsroom also prominently linked to the explanation on the story page so that anytime someone interacts with the story for the first time, they’re invited to learn more about the ethics and process behind it. This work was done independently from Trusting News but embodies the work we do.
To improve transparency with users, the Philadelphia Inquirer started a series in one of their local newsletters where they take users behind to scenes so they can learn more about the newsroom’s process. The topics ranged from how breaking news works to why they have an opinion section.
When the heartbreaking photos of a young dad and his toddler who drowned trying to cross the border into the United States emerged, news organizations had to make the difficult decision of whether they would show the graphic photo alongside their reporting. When USA TODAY made the call that they would run the photo, standards editor Manny Garcia wrote a column explaining the reasoning behind the decision. “This is a story that must be told — fully and truthfully, with context and perspectives from all sides … Death is a constant along the border, but rarely is it captured in such a direct way,” Garcia wrote. It’s likely the column got much less traffic than the actual news story itself, leading to the assumption that a lot of readers didn’t see or know the level of thought the paper put behind this decision to run the graphic photo. To level up, we recommend including a sentence about their decision and linking to the column in the caption of the photo itself. That way the explanation would appear alongside the photo in every story it was attached to.
WCPO decided their newsroom would severely limit the number of crime mugshots it used on its website. Director Mike Canan wrote a column explaining the change, specifically addressing how mugshots often disproportionately represented people of color and people with mental health issues while rarely added to the value of the actual reporting. The station also explicitly listed its new protocol for how it would use mugshots, inviting its audience to hold them accountable to their own standards. “We think it is ethical and responsible without harming our commitment to accurate journalism,” Canan wrote.
When publishing a story about a deadly accident that occurred 40 years ago, the Tampa Bay Times included a box that explained why the paper was reporting on a historical incident and how the story was reported. “The Sunshine Skyway disaster remains one of Florida’s most tragic accidents. To commemorate the 40-year anniversary, we wanted to tell the story of two men who received little recognition for their efforts. The information in this story was gathered over four months, involving multiple interviews,” the box read.
The San Fransisco Chronicle used a story about a lawsuit against the city to explain more of its reporting process to their readers. The paper included a box in the story that gave readers insight into how the reporting was done, including information on how many people the reporter interviewed and reminding users about the extent of the paper’s past coverage on the topic. “Reporter Carolyn Said has interviewed more than two dozen taxi drivers over the past few years about their industry’s implosion since the advent of Uber and Lyft and their struggles to pay their medallion loans. She has written several articles about this issue, also including perspectives from the Municipal Transportation Agency and the city’s taxi companies,” the box read. “Last week she met with two attorneys for the San Francisco Federal Credit Union who provided hundreds of pages of court filings from both the credit union and the city, flagging several items that they viewed as ‘smoking guns.'”
After publishing an investigative story about how certain businesses were getting tax breaks from the city, the Malheur Enterprise publisher and editor Les Zaitz wrote a column giving readers a step-by-step look at how journalist Pat Caldwell reported the story. Zaitz included information like how the reporter followed up with sources, how he verified information and how he obtained public records. “By sharing the background of how this story evolved, I hope you’ll understand the great care taken to be fair, to get the facts, and tell you something important about your local government,” Zaitz wrote. This work was done independently from Trusting News but embodies the work we do.
After receiving some negative feedback about a story covering a controversial political meme, PA Post editor Russ Walker directly addressed the community concerns in a column. In the post, Walker reminded users of the newsroom’s mission and commitment to providing balanced election coverage of both parties while also explaining why the paper decided to cover this story in the first place. “The staff at PA Post knows we are heading into a contentious election year. While our focus is on covering policy and how government actions affect Pennsylvania citizens, we’ll also be watching the messages and campaign tactics of both parties. How campaigns are waged can tell us — the voters — a lot about how a candidate or party will govern,” Walker wrote. This work was done independently from Trusting News but embodies the work we do.
When The Oklahoman published an investigation into the lack of regulations of midwives in the state, the paper included a video Q&A with the reporter and a written column that expanded on the paper’s reporting process. The column addressed questions such as why the paper looked into this topic in the first place, how the reporters obtained public records, and why they did not name of some families involved in the lawsuit, even though it was public information. “As investigative journalists, our job is to tell in-depth stories that make communities safer, healthier and more knowledgeable. When we invest many months in stories like this, it’s because we uncover information that we think the public needs to know and can’t find anywhere else,” the column read. This work was done independently from Trusting News but embodies the work we do.
In partnership with the Solutions Journalism Network, the Atlantic-Journal constitution shifted the focus of its editorial pages to be more solutions-based during the coronavirus outbreak. Managing editor Mark Waligore explained the change in a column, saying that with politics becoming more polarized, the paper wanted to shift its focus on solving community problems during the pandemic. “Given all that has happened, we believe the changes we’ve made to the Opinion pages are the right approach at the right time,” Waligore wrote. “We hope they can serve as a gathering spot, of sorts. A place to share your personal stories. A place to swap ideas and look for answers. A place that brings us together, rather than divides us.”
With COVID-19 consuming daily life, it could seem strange to see a non-pandemic related investigation published by a news organization. NPR addressed this situation directly when publishing an investigation into recycling. They adding an editor’s note at the top of the story that read, “NPR will be publishing stories from this investigative series in the weeks ahead, even as we focus our current coverage on the coronavirus pandemic. But here’s a look at some of our key findings. You can watch the full documentary film from this investigation on the PBS series Frontline.” This work was done independently from Trusting News but embodies the work we do.
Editor of the San Francisco Chronicle Audrey Cooper wrote a column telling their audience that while their journalists and entire news operation were working remotely, they were still just as committed to providing accurate, timely news to the community. “It’s critical that we be there to make sure that you have the information you need to make decisions about what’s right for your family and for your community, ” Cooper wrote. “Whether we are recording podcasts from under a sound-dulling blanket fort (yes, I did that), conducting interviews in a child’s closet among stuffed animals (as reporter Matthias Gafni did), or updating the live updates story while batting away a persistent cat (thanks, Lauren Hernández), we will do everything we can to ensure we provide you with the news now and well after the crisis is over.”
The Coloradoan sent a newsletter to subscribers sharing their plan for how they were going to keep the community informed during the coronavirus pandemic. “This pandemic is a public health crisis the likes of which many of our journalists have never covered before,” content strategies Jennifer Hefty wrote. “We are learning as we go and trying our best to provide critical information without spreading panic.”
WEWS in Cleveland posted a column sharing why the station was focusing so much of its coverage on the coronavirus spread and addressed accusations from readers that they were stoking panic and fear in the community. “Balancing our coronavirus coverage in a way that attempts to reflect reality is something we’ve been discussing over here a lot. We’re quite aware that there’s a way to report this story that makes it sound like the world is coming to an end,” Digital Director Joe Donatelli wrote. “Our focus right now is on reporting the overall impact, government management and the human element of this public health threat in a manner that raises public awareness.” The post also discussed how social media algorithms can impact the type of news content you see in your social feeds. This work was done independently from Trusting News but embodies the work we do.

 

The Corpus Christi (Texas) Caller-Times wrote an article explaining who they are, why they do what they do, and what the newsroom’s decision-making process is. The article included information like the newsroom’s mission, how the newsroom decides what to cover, how they use content from wire services, its process for handling corrections, as well as how the public can submit news tips. By putting all the information into one place they’ll be able to easily share the link when questions come up in the future.
After internal conversations about being more responsive to readers on its website, The Day’s editorial page editor Paul Choiniere jumped into a comment thread to explain the paper’s coverage of a military event. He publicly responded to negative feedback shared in a letter to the editor, saying: “The Day will match its reporting on the military and on veterans with any newspaper in the country. It is extensive. But we cannot cover every event. … However, we respect the rights of our readers to offer their opinions, including, as in this case, in letters to the editor.” This newsroom is a Trusting News partner but this work was done independently from Trusting News.

 

When reporting on elections, sharing how you’re striving to provide fair and balanced coverage can be a powerful way to earn trust with your audience. Before President Trump made a campaign stop in Cincinnati, WPCO wrote an article explaining the station’s policy on covering candidates ahead of the 2020 election. The station was transparent about it’s guidelines and acknowledged how coverage would be different from past election cycles. “We know this is a controversial decision for some of our audience, but we wanted to let you know that we took great care in trying to make a fair decision for our community,” Senior Director Mike Canan wrote.

 

In an effort to start regaining trust with readers, the Corpus Christi Caller-Times started better labeling different types of content, including its opinion and watchdog stories. In this story, the staff defined what watchdog journalism is, along with the newsroom’s mission and motivation behind its coverage. “That’s what we do as journalists,” they wrote. “We alert you to something you may not know, but should know, for your own good.”

 

A big part of what we do at the Trusting News project is help journalists talk about how we do our jobs, including how and why we make decisions. When we explain our process, we allow users to see how our story came together, why we put resources toward covering the story and why we chose to include certain people, images and words. More from this edition can be found here and to receive the tips in your inbox each week click here
How do you choose which stories to cover? That question is high on the list of what your audience wants to know about your work. And as we wrote in an earlier newsletter, without clear answers from you, they’re making plenty of assumptions.
Rather than letting your audience guess about your agenda, try telling them what you’re trying to accomplish. More from this edition can be found here and to receive the tips in your inbox each week click here
Newsrooms get a lot of complaints about covering too much “bad news.” Too much conflict, violence, argument and devastation. In short, too many problems. Some of that comes with the territory, of course. Shining a light on a community’s challenges is a key function of journalism. But often, we try to aggressively report not just on problems but also on the people and projects working to solve them. We highlight what’s working, not just what’s broken. And when we do that, we need to clearly point it out. More from this edition can be found here and to receive the tips in your inbox each week click here
Trust Tips 4: Use Direct Language
Cutline, VOSOT, A1 — just because you say it in the newsroom doesn’t mean your audience will understand it. We all know how important it is to use words that help us communicate clearly with our audiences. That’s true for the language we use when reporting on complex topics, and when we talk about our own work. More from this edition can be found here and to receive the tips in your inbox each week click here.
Trust Tips 3: Be ready to discuss content you don't produce
Who do you trust to inform your audience of things that happen outside your coverage area? When was the last time you and your colleagues had a good talk about the stories you publish that you don’t produce yourselves? We’re here to tell you: Your audience is talking about those stories, and they’re holding you accountable for them. This is from our “Trust Tips” weekly newsletter. More from this edition can be found here and to receive the tips in your inbox each week click here.
Picture the process of how your newsroom decides which stories to cover. Which meetings? Which crimes? Which festivals? Which games? If we’re honest, a lot of those decisions happen intuitively. We have conventions we follow about what’s newsworthy and what’s not. We have big-picture fairness we’re trying to achieve when it comes to who and what gets attention. We know what stories we did last year and try not to repeat them. This is from our “Trust Tips” weekly newsletter. More from this edition can be found here and to receive the tips in your inbox each week click here.
Themes:
Newsroom:
While putting together an annual newspaper edition focused on progress, Enid went to Facebook to ask for story ideas. They were specific about what types of topics the story ideas should be about and included an email address for where to send ideas. The newsroom saw this as a way to get fresh story ideas for something they work on every year.
While putting together an annual newspaper edition focused on progress, Enid went to Facebook to ask for story ideas. They were specific about what types of topics the story ideas should be about and included an email address for where to send ideas. The newsroom saw this as a way to get fresh story ideas for something they work on every year.
By posting a story on their website, WITF decided to explain how journalists put together one of the shows they air. The article discussed how they use wire content and other national news coverage. It also discussed how much of the news segment is local.
In a story on their website, WITF explains how journalists put together one of the shows they air. The article discusses how they use wire content and other national news coverage, and what their relationship is to those partner organizations. It also discusses how much of the news segment is local.
Sometimes explaining why you are not covering a story is just as helpful for your users as explaining why you are covering one. KCRG did just that when users asked them why they were not covering all school threats happening in the community. They decided to write an explainer story on their website explaining when and why they will cover school threats and also when they will not. The policy was one that was known inside the newsroom but it was the first time they were making their policy public.
Sometimes explaining why you are not covering a story is just as helpful for your users as explaining why you are covering one. KCRG did just that when users asked them why they were not covering all school threats happening in the community. They decided to write an explainer story on their website explaining when and why they will cover school threats and also when they will not. The policy was one that was known inside the newsroom but it was the first time they were making their policy public.
Sometimes explaining why you are not covering a story is just as helpful for your users as explaining why you are covering one. KCRG did just that when users asked them why they were not covering all school threats happening in the community. They decided to write an explainer story on their website explaining when and why they will cover school threats and also when they will not. The policy was one that was known inside the newsroom but it was the first time they were making their policy public.
Sometimes explaining why you are not covering a story is just as helpful for your users as explaining why you are covering one. KCRG did just that when users asked them why they were not covering all school threats happening in the community. They decided to write an explainer story on their website explaining when and why they will cover school threats and also when they will not. The policy was one that was known inside the newsroom but it was the first time they were making their policy public.
When faced with the question of whether or not to cover another school threat in the D.C.-area, WUSA decided to pose the question to their audience. "Should the media report on all threats targeted at schools? Tweet us your thoughts using #OffScriptOn9," they posted in Twitter. In the Twitter thread they discussed that they did not have a set policy about whether or not cover school threats and that the newsroom is often debating this issue internally.
When faced with the question of whether or not to cover another school threat in the D.C.-area, WUSA decided to pose the question to their audience. “Should the media report on all threats targeted at schools? Tweet us your thoughts using #OffScriptOn9,” they posted on Twitter. In the Twitter thread, they discussed that they did not have a set policy about whether or not cover school threats and that the newsroom is often debating this issue internally.
Screenshot from a Facebook LIVE video on USA TODAY's page, showing a discussion between readers and experts.
USA TODAY invited two people who commented on a previous Facebook Live, sharing traumatic stories involving assault and abuse, to join a Facebook Live via Skype, with a representative of the Women’s Center in Washington, D.C. Engaging with users throughout all aspects of reporting made this possible. While logistically challenging, USA TODAY was very happy with how it turned out, and so were users.
Screenshot from the News Tribune's Facebook page, showing a post that asked readers: "What questions do you have about Gov. Eric Greitens' indictment? Tell us in a comment, and we'll do our best to answer them."
The Jefferson City News Tribune was covering a complicated political story that was changing quickly. While doing so, they asked their audience what questions they had about the story and attempted to answer them in real time.
A lot of users wonder why certain stories make it into the news cycle while others do not. The Christian Science Monitor decided to add an editor's note to one of their newsletters explaining why a story was being covered. They shared how the story idea became a "talker" during the editorial meeting and that impacted their decision to include the story in their news coverage.
A lot of users wonder why certain stories make it into the news cycle while others do not. The Christian Science Monitor decided to add an editor’s note to one of their newsletters explaining why a story was being covered. They shared how the story idea became a “talker” during the editorial meeting and that impacted their decision to include the story in their news coverage.
Throughout an investigative story, WUSA explained to its users how they produced a story. The reporter began by relating to the community by explaining his connection to the city of Washington, D.C. Then the reporter explained what questions they were trying to answer by doing the story and why they felt it was an important story to produce. Throughout the story they discuss their reporting process and invite feedback and questions. The reporter even offers his cell phone to users on-air.
Throughout an investigative story, WUSA explained to its users how they produced a story. The reporter began by relating to the community by explaining his connection to the city of Washington, D.C. Then the reporter explained what questions they were trying to answer by doing the story and why they felt it was an important story to produce. Throughout the story they discuss their reporting process and invite feedback and questions. The reporter even offers his cell phone to users on-air.
The Virginian-Pilot wrote a story explaining how their "letters to the editor" section works. It talked about how stories are selected and who is in charge of selecting the stories. The explanation post was also published in print.
The Virginian-Pilot wrote a story explaining how their “letters to the editor” section works. It talked about how stories are selected and who is in charge of selecting the stories. The explanation post was also published in print.
Social media can get a bad rap, but for many newsrooms, it's a key part of how audiences find their coverage. In this post, the social media editor at WITF explains that her goal is to inform and add value to the readers' day. She clearly states that while tracking clicks is part of the job, "we avoid raising your blood pressure for the sake of engagement stats." Finally, she reminds readers of the station's comment policy, and invites feedback and reactions.
Social media can get a bad rap, but for many newsrooms, it’s a key part of how audiences find their coverage. In this post, the social media editor at WITF explains that her goal is to inform and add value to the readers’ day. She clearly states that while tracking clicks is part of the job, “we avoid raising your blood pressure for the sake of engagement stats.” Finally, she reminds readers of the station’s comment policy, and invites feedback and reactions.
Screenshot showing a form embedded on thegazette.com, asking readers "What questions do you have?"
The Gazette started using Google Forms to ask users if anything in their stories needed more reporting or explanation. The forms were primarily created for local stories they wanted to dig into more. This resulted in information for them to advance the story, and also, sometimes led to a new story to cover.
Screenshot from thegazette.com, showing an explanation of how a story originated with reader feedback.
The Gazette noticed a lot of users had questions about a story they covered. They looked at the questions and decided they warranted responses, so, the news team worked to find answers and published a follow-up story. They made sure to include language explaining their reporting process, which highlights how they listen to their users act on feedback they receive.
Screenshot from thegazette.com, showing a shaded box where the paper asked readers for feedback and ideas.
To help get more ideas on who they should talk to in their community, the Gazette decided to ask their users for help. Through a shaded pull-out box embedded in a web story, they asked for ideas identifying possible sources and general feedback on the story. In this example, it resulted in the newsroom receiving a handful of story ideas.
Tweet from Annenberg Media, reading: Do you have a news tip, story or event you’d like us to cover? You can share your tips and suggestions at http://bit.ly/annenbergmedianewstip ...
Annenberg Media used a simple tweet and Google form to solicit story ideas and tips. If you want feedback, ask for it. When asking it’s important to meet the user where they are. Receiving an email may be easier for you, but sending a Facebook/Instagram Message, tweet, or text may be easier for your user.
Tweet from Annenberg Media, reading: Do you have a news tip, story or event you’d like us to cover? You can share your tips and suggestions at http://bit.ly/annenbergmedianewstip ...
Annenberg Media used a simple tweet and Google form to solicit story ideas and tips. If you want feedback, ask for it. When asking it’s important to meet the user where they are. Receiving an email may be easier for you, but sending a Facebook/Instagram Message, tweet, or text may be easier for your user.
Screenshot from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram's page on Facebook, asking: What are we missing? And including instructions for community members to submit story ideas.
Want to know what types of stories your audience wants to see? Just ask them. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram used the hiring of a new investigative journalist to ask users “what are we missing?” The post, shared on Facebook and Twitter, invited users to share story ideas with the newsroom using a Google Form. As journalists we sometimes assume people know it’s OK to contact us but, that’s not always the case. A simple ask or invitation can go a long way.
Screenshot from communityimpact.com, reading: Editor’s note: Community Impact Newspaper has been following the paid sick leave issue since the city began gathering input for a potential citywide ordinance. Throughout Community Impact Newspaper‘s reporting, viewpoints from all sides of the issue have been expressed. Please click this link to find all previous coverage on this issue.
Balanced reporting can happen over time, but readers don’t always see the full breadth of your coverage. An editor’s note can draw attention to the wide variety of sources you’ve interviewed—and highlight your promise to keep sharing a range of perspectives.
Screenshot from a Discourse Media newsletter
At Discourse, newsletters allow reporters the freedom to show more personality than they do in finished pieces. Here, the reporter shares how her goals, her sourcing, and some practical limitations (juggling deadlines!) shapes her reporting on a topic. Abundantly linking can also help readers follow along on their own.
Screenshot from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram page on Facebook. The image says: Readers, what do you want to see from us this year?
Meet readers where they are—on social media—to make it easy for them to share feedback and story ideas you might have missed. Responding to comments gave the Star-Telegram team additional opportunities to learn about their audience, share their ethics and values, and highlight recent coverage.
Screenshot from the Christian Science Monitor page on Facebook.
Planning a big story? Let readers chime in with the questions they’d like to see answered. The Christian Science Monitor saw “validation that our audience likes to be a part of the process” when they introduced their interns, shared their own goals for covering an upcoming political event, and prompted readers to share what they’d ask. They also set clear expectations of how reader questions would be used.