A Road to Pluralism
This initiative by Trusting News aims help journalists strengthen trust across diverse values, experiences and political views to bridge divides, foster productive conversations and fuel open-mindedness.
Healthy democracies depend on civic dialogue and a shared set of facts. Our team at Trusting News believes local news especially can play an important role in bridging conversations across divides. Our goal is to better understand the societal and psychological forces that influence polarization and perceptions of news.
We’ve been asking some big questions about how journalists can be a part of the solution to fractured and polarized communities. This initiative is part of that search for solutions, designed to help journalists provide coverage that is relevant to, respectful of and trusted by people with diverse world views and experiences.
We’re focused on actions and decisions. Since early 2021, we’ve spent a lot of time and energy on research, strategies, and finding out what’s realistic for newsrooms to actually do in order to impact change, especially ahead of the midterm elections this fall.
How we want to help newsrooms
We believe that by understanding audience perceptions and how people might feel about your coverage, depending on where they’re coming from, journalists can be more relevant and useful. With that in mind, here are some things we want to help journalists do.
We’ve already been exploring these idea with the help of partner journalists and our research team, and will continue to add links below as we learn more.
Engage regularly with people who don’t trust news to better understand their perceptions.
We want to help journalists ask questions and listen to people in their communities in order to authentically understand and help identify themes about the audiences they’re missing to bring back to the newsroom. We want to see what roadblocks exist, and motivate journalists to care about audience perceptions of news so we can understand the deep baggage and assumptions behind some of the mistrust. We want to anticipate what people might assume or feel about your coverage, depending on where they’re coming from, and build this listening and engaging authentically into the routines of newsrooms.
- Community interview guide: Walks journalists through having conversations with people who don’t trust news.
- Advice from journalists: Why we’ve invested in listening to people who don’t trust us
- Research insights: Reaching and building trust with diverse audiences
- Conversation with Amanda Ripley: Watch a recorded discussion of how journalists can decide who in their communities is worth trying to reach
- Webinar: Watch a replay of a webinar where we discuss research insights and hear from partner journalists about what they learned about listening to reach new audiences.
Help journalists identify polarizing and harmful words, phrases and framing.
We want to help journalists choose words carefully and to avoid polarizing language, based on both journalists’ ideas and what we’ve learned about audience perspectives. We want to help identify strategies that can help editors assess whether individual stories are contributing to the complexity and curiosity of their audiences, rather than over generalizations and polarization.
- Polarizing language: A look at specific words and types of words to avoid or be cautious with
- Anti-polarization checklist: Walks reporters and editors through using a depolarizing lens with decisions about story framing, language, headlines and transparency
- Research on the checklist: What our research team learned analyzing newsroom partners’ experience with the checklist tool
Re-evaluate sourcing and who journalists talk to
We want to help journalists talk to a broader spectrum of people in their community, so they can include voices beyond just political leaders, police, or high-powered members. We want to know the roadblocks that get in the way of having a more diverse source base, and how journalists can work tracking source diversity into their routines.
Re-evaluate wire content and it’s prominence
Knowing that people have higher trust in local news than national news, we want to help newsrooms evaluate the role and prominence of wire coverage in their products. We want to encourage newsrooms to prioritize local coverage, and if they run wire content, to help them explain the story selection process to their audience.
Re-evaluate opinion content and its role in newsroom
We want to encourage journalists to implement clearer labeling and explanations around opinion content, but we also want to evaluate the prominence of opinion content and the role it plays in creating perceptions of biased news coverage. This means considering shifting practices around publishing political editorials, especially syndicated national opinion content, and being transparent about opinion content’s role and the political affiliations of all who are writing in that space.
Help journalists examine framing of their headlines carefully
Similarly, we want to help journalists write headlines carefully, knowing that oftentimes audiences feel headlines often oversimplify and sensationalize issues. We want to help editors examine how the headlines might be perceived by people with different values and experiences, and consider what they are communicating to their audience (intentionally or unintentionally) about how they see an issue.
Assess the makeup of newsroom staff (and blindspots)
We want to help newsrooms assess which voices are missing in their organization because too often, the shared experiences and world views in newsrooms are quite similar. We want to focus on how to create an environment that gives space for different perspectives and ideas, and how newsrooms can hire to help fill the gap of these blindspots.
How we’re working with newsrooms
A big part of this work involves partnering with newsrooms and journalists to be able to provide insights and strategies that can be implemented across different organizations. This work wouldn’t be possible without their help and willingness to experiment.
We also want to say a big thanks to our research team who has been helping us gather and analyze data along the way. The research team is comprised of Sue Robinson, University of Wisconsin-Madison; Patrick R. Johnson, University of Iowa; Josh Darr, Louisiana State University. Read more about what they’re helping us do here.
If you’re interested in partnering with us in future pluralism work, fill out this form. We’ll keep in touch as new project and research come up.
The best way to follow our work and see examples from other newsrooms is to subscribe to our weekly Trust Tips newsletter.