“Explain your process” box improves perceptions of news organization

A new study from the Center for Media Engagement at the University of Texas at Austin found adding a box explaining your story process can improve a user’s perceptions of a news organization.

The research was done on behalf of Trusting News and completed this month. The goal of the testing was to see whether adding explanations for how journalists do their jobs is a useful tool to help build trust between a news organization and its users.

We’ve seen through our work since 2016 that these elements do build trust. But we know newsrooms need evidence, and we’re happy to share this new data.

The findings suggest adding an “explain your process” box can increase trust and the Center is recommending that news organizations consider adding them to their stories. (Read more about the process for the testing and dive deeper into the results here.)

Example of what the “explain your process” box looked like.

Many Trusting News newsrooms have used an “explain your process” box in their web stories to share more about how they created a story. Some newsrooms would use the box to highlight information about why they chose to cover a particular story, how they approached finding sources or to provide insight into their information gathering and fact-checking process.

The Trusting News project wanted to test this approach to see if users noticed the box and if the information provided impacts how trustworthy they think the news organization is. By partnering with the Center for Media Engagement, we were able to get data on how individuals responded, a crucial part of the process as we continue our testing and continue to offer advice and coaching services to the journalism community.

To run the testing the Center for Media Engagement used content from two of our news partners: USA TODAY and the Tennessean. Research participants either viewed a news article with a box or without and then were asked a series of questions about the news organization.

According to the study, “people who viewed a news article with the box perceived the news organization as significantly more reliable, compared to people who saw the same story without the box.”

In addition, the research participants who viewed an article with the box rated the news organization significantly higher on 11 of the 12 attributes of trust. These attributes include being more transparent, informative, accurate, fair, credible, unbiased, and reputable.

“It is relatively easy to put this box together using information from the reporters’ news-gathering process and can improve items that relate to trust,” according to the report.

When deciding what to explain, consider answering questions like these:

  • Why you’re doing this story. You can discuss how this story fits with your mission as a news organization, where the story idea came from and why the information in the story is important for your community to know.
  • How you’re doing this story. Discuss how long you spent reporting on the story, the number of people you interviewed/talked to before publishing the story, any ethical decisions made along the way (we make a lot more than we think every day) and how you fact-checked information.
  • What else your user should know. Did you use public records for the story? If so, talk about how you did that. You can also talk about how you worked to be fair in your coverage.

At Trusting News, we learn how people decide what news to trust and turn that knowledge into actionable strategies for journalists. We train and empower journalists to take responsibility for demonstrating credibility and actively earning trust through transparency and engagement. Subscribe to our Trust Tips newsletter. Follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn. Read more about our work at TrustingNews.org.

lynn@trustingnews.org | + posts

Assistant director Lynn Walsh (she/her) is an Emmy award-winning journalist who has worked in investigative journalism at the national level and locally in California, Ohio, Texas and Florida. She is the former Ethics Chair for the Society of Professional Journalists and a past national president for the organization. Based in San Diego, Lynn is also an adjunct professor and freelance journalist. She can be reached at lynn@TrustingNews.org and on Twitter @lwalsh.