No one is expecting things to be “normal” for the remainder of 2020, and the upcoming election is no exception. As I talk to friends and family, they have a lot of anxiety and concerns ahead of Election Day due to all the unknowns surrounding it. And it makes sense — this election looks very different from previous elections. As journalists, we obviously can’t quell all unknowns. (Wouldn’t it be nice if we could have some future vision, though?) But what we can do is help manage our audience’s expectations for election night and beyond. More from this edition can be found here and to receive the tips in your inbox each week click here
In order to make voting information easily accessible for readers, the Fulcrum created a voter FAQ that had information about how to make sure voter registration is up-to-date, how to find polling places and what voting rights the public has.
FiveThirtyEight included a disclaimer alongside an election poll they ran to clarity that while polls can be helpful benchmark ahead of the election, it can’t possibly predict the outcome of any election. “Before we proceed further, one disclaimer about the scope of the model: It seeks to reflect the vote as cast on Election Day, assuming that there are reasonable efforts to allow eligible citizens to vote and to count all legal ballots, and that electors are awarded to the popular-vote winner in each state. It does not account for the possibility of extraconstitutional shenanigans by Trump or by anyone else, such as trying to prevent mail ballots from being counted,” the disclaimer read.
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 News Tribune included an editor’s note at the top of their coverage that stated the newsroom’s mission with their elections content, where to see all the election content, and how to contact the newsroom. “The News Tribune reports on elections to equip community members with the tools they need to participate in democracy. That includes sharing candidates’ positions on important issues and making information about the voting process accessible,” the note reads.
PEN America wrote a guide for how to talk to friends and family who share misinformation, including how to verify information and avoid escalation on social media. “While some people create and spread disinformation—false information shared with the intent to deceive others—your friends and family may well spread misinformation, which is shared by people who may not know the information is false. They probably think the content is true, and they may feel they’re sharing something important. That can make it tough to know how to confront them. Here are a few suggestions.” This work was done independently from Trusting News but embodies the work we do.
The Austin Statesman included a statement about their commitment to diversity and included it on the newsroom’s “About Us” page. The statement read: “When reporting a story, we seek out diversity of opinion to tell that story more completely. When provided with information from one source, we consider who might think differently or have additional information that could reveal a clearer picture. We fact-check what people tell us.” This work was done independently from Trusting News but embodies the work we do.
WCPO asked their users what they wanted to know from candidates ahead of their elections reporting.”Usually, the journalists are the ones who ask the questions. Especially during election season, when campaigns often tell constituents what the campaigns want to tell them, instead of what the constituents want to hear,” senior reporter Larry Seward wrote in a column about the station’s efforts. “So that’s why we want to flip things around this year. We want to know what YOU want to know. We created the form below so that we could build an engagement map for how our viewers want these campaigns covered.” Seward said the public responses brought up questions for candidates the reporters wouldn’t have otherwise asked.
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.
With much of the public overwhelmed by news in 2020, it’s important to provide information in accessible ways. Here’s an example of how the Wisconsin Green Bay Press Gazette did that. The newsroom created a voter guide that had all voting and election information in one story that was easy to navigate. In the guide, the newsroom links to voter registration information, endorsements, and previous coverage of candidates and ballot issues. This work was done independently from Trusting News but embodies the work we do.
Themes:

Newsroom:
WCPO created an Elections Guide that contained all the basic election information in one place, including how to request a mail-in ballot, how to register to vote, and key dates to know ahead of the election. By providing easy-to-find answers to basic election questions, you can build trust with your users and maybe even pick up new ones.
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.
Before the Atlanta Journal-Constitution published Q&A’s with candidates running for open seats in Georgie, they asked their readers to share their questions, they might want to be included in the questionnaires. “What issues are most important to you? And what would you ask candidates if you had the chance? Your suggestions could be included in our questionnaires and/or contribute to other election stories.”
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.
Many of you probably get accused of having a liberal bias — of publishing more “negative” content about conservative politicians and of reporting more favorably on progressive ideas and candidates. I’m guessing you probably want your audience to know you work hard to be fair. And I am guessing you stand behind your coverage. If so, where’s your evidence? Remember, it’s reasonable for news consumers to be frustrated by partisan information, overwhelmed with choices and confused about what news to trust. It’s laudable for them to ask you to provide evidence of your credibility. Their skepticism and caution are appropriate. More from this edition can be found here and to receive the tips in your inbox each week click here.
Political polls are a lot to navigate: There are new ones continually. They seem to contradict each other. It’s hard to know which ones to trust, or if we should even bother paying attention. As journalists, we learn how much credence to give polls. We learn to look for independence in the pollsters (financial and political). We inspect their methodology. But are you explaining any of that? Doing so could build trust in your methods and can also help your audience be more educated consumers of polling data. More from this edition can be found here and to receive the tips in your inbox each week click here.
After facing viewer questions about political ads, WCPO’s general manager Jeff Brogan wrote a column explaining how political advertising works for broadcasters. In the column he explains the FCC rules for political advertising and how the station is legally not allowed to edit or alter ads ads they recieve from candidates. “WCPO 9 and our parent company, E.W. Scripps, support the freedom of speech principles of the First Amendment, which emphasize a robust and open debate about the political process,” Brogan writes. “Although some of today’s political action committees might use aggressive tactics during the campaign season, their ads fall under free speech and have a right to be on a broadcast.”
During election season, people can be inundated with political advertisements — from candidates, parties, PAC’s and other groups. If you publish or air any of these ads (which most news organizations do) you probably have received complaints about them from your users. Some may be confused as to why this is showing up on your station. Others may be upset about the content inside the ads. And they might be jumping to incorrect or unfair conclusions about you. While some people may understand that your news organization is airing or publishing the ads just as you would with any other business (a car dealership or ice cream shop), too many people don’t actually understand how it works. They may have questions like: Why are you choosing to run ads from certain groups? Are the ads edited or changed before you air or publish them? Do you get the final say in what you publish/air? Is anyone fact-checking them? More from this edition can be found here and to receive the tips in your inbox each week click here.
As election season quickly approaches, there is a lot of information (and misinformation) floating around. So have you asked your audience what they might be confused about when it comes to participating in the upcoming election? Maybe you’ve posted to Twitter or Facebook asking users to share general questions or thoughts related to the election, which is one avenue for getting feedback or story ideas. But another great way to open up a conversation with your audience and remind them you’re a community resource is to ask for specific questions — and then answer those questions in real-time. Because of all the recent confusion and conflicting information surrounding voting by mail, staff at The Fulcrum decided they wanted to provide clarity around the issue. So reporters Sara Swann and Bill Theobald hosted a Reddit AMA, or Ask Me Anything, where they asked their readers what questions they had about voting by mail and voting in general during COVID times. The duo ended up responding to dozens of thoughtful reader questions, ranging from how long it could take to get results to what protocols are being put into place to safeguard the voting by mail process. More from this edition can be found here and to receive the tips in your inbox each week click here.
How do you describe conspiracy theories like QAnon to your audience? How about candidates for office who amplify or adhere to those theories? This is tricky territory for journalists. As the American Press Institute’s Susan Benkelman wrote last week: If you are in the business of trying to publish what’s true, how do you treat things that are untrue without amplifying them? When is the right time to write about them and what is the right way to describe them accurately? How do you decide which ones are not worth debunking and which are? In an age of social media, how do you do all this without inadvertently encouraging the spread of falsehoods? Benkelman’s piece is full of concrete advice and example language to use when making coverage decisions about dangerous, false messages. (As a reminder, Trusting News is a project of both API and the Reynolds Journalism Institute.) The piece also links to a running list of congressional candidates who have embraced QAnon’s messaging, sorted by state. 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.
At Trusting News, we think it’s vitally important that our industry understand people’s perceptions of journalism and the climate in which our work is consumed. Only when we do that can we proactively correct the narrative around our work. Thanks to researchers, we’re able to point to data, not just gut feelings, when we try to make sense of what people think of us and our work. We’ve pulled together a few key facts about how news is perceived. We hope this will be useful as you consider your election coverage. You can find more curated facts about trust in news in this slide deck. More from this edition can be found here and to receive the tips in your inbox each week click here.

 

Josie Hollingsworth, the engagement editor for Politifact, created a video that explained to users how the organization decides what to fact-check. Hollingsworth said people frequently ask the Politifact team how they pick which claims to fact check, so now going forward, their team can quickly link to the video whenever the question comes up.
Journalists like certainty. They like to ask questions and provide answers. But what should they do about the questions they can’t get answers to — either because the information isn’t available or because the questions are unanswerable? A common practice is to address what is known and leave out what is unknown. But that’s not always the best option when it comes to building trust. We know that when news consumers don’t understand the choices journalists make, the conclusions they reach are often not flattering ones. They’re not giving us the benefit of the doubt. Instead, they sometimes assume an agenda that involves highlighting some facts or story angles and purposefully suppressing others. Think about all the times you see comments like, “of course they won’t tell us that part of the story …” or “they must not want us to know …” By being upfront about things that aren’t yet known, journalists can remove some of that speculation and assure their audiences they’re continuing to ask the important questions. This is especially important when covering big, controversial stories — like elections, public health crises and protests. More from this edition can be found here and to receive the tips in your inbox each week click here.

 

ProPublica sent out a newsletter to the people who have supported them financially that talked directly about political bias in news. The organization’s president Richard Tofel, who penned the newsletter, shared that yes, the newsroom has written more stories critical of President Trump than President Obama, and went on to explain in detail why that’s the case. Tofel also was very transparent about what ProPublica’s audience looked like (that it tends to be more liberal) and why they wish they had more conservative and non-white readers. “ProPublica would be more effective if our readership contained a proportion of people of color closer to the population of the country, and if it contained a similar proportion of self-identified conservatives,” Tofel wrote. This work was done independently from Trusting News but embodies the work we do.
Most of us have probably been told that we are one-sided in our coverage. It’s a common complaint, and it can be a tough one to reply to. Especially when it comes to political coverage, we try hard to be fair. Yet those efforts often go unnoticed. The interesting thing is that when we consider what balanced coverage looks like, we are often thinking about it over time. We think about how we interviewed the family of the victim shot last week. So, if we talk to gun rights activists today, we do not necessarily need to hear from gun violence victims again in the same story. But, for the user, who most likely did not see the story from last week, but did see today’s, they may think we are siding with the gun rights activists because they are not hearing from all sides in one story. Despite the steps we take to produce responsible, ethical journalism every day, we’re often not getting credit for those efforts. We don’t draw enough ties between our entire body of coverage. We don’t point out the consistency in our approach, the thoughtfulness behind our decisions or the pains we take to represent multiple sides of an issue fairly. More from this edition can be found here and to receive the tips in your inbox each week click here. 
At the beginning of Georgia’s Legislative session, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution wrote an article explaining how they were planning on covering the legislature. In the story, they clearly state why it’s important to dedicate so many newsroom resources to the coverage, and also explained why they would be focusing more Republican initiatives. “Both chambers of the Legislature are controlled by Republicans, and the governor and other statewide leaders are also Republicans. That means that issues and bills they push have a far greater chance of becoming law,” the article reads. “As a result, we typically write more stories examining and vetting Republican initiatives than we do bills sponsored by Democrats if they have little chance of passing. When Democrats controlled the Legislature before 2003, the reverse was true.”
While reporting on the House impeachment vote again President Trump, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution included a box on the front page of its print paper that clearly stated how they were striving to provide fair coverage. “To ensure our impeachment coverage continues to be balanced, we used the same format on the front page and on A7 for the Senate vote as we did the House vote on Dec. 18,” the box read.
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.
In a story about presidential candidate Amy Klobuchar, the San Fransisco Chroncicle inserted language in the story to tell readers how and why they were covering Democratic presidential candidates, and how the paper was striving to provide equal coverage. “The Chronicle is examining how California would look if the major Democratic presidential candidates were elected and could implement their top policy priorities,” the box read. “Candidates’ positions are taken from their websites, their campaign comments, and in some cases legislation they have sponsored in office.”
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.

 

KCRG decided to explain to users how it was going to cover President Donald Trump's use of profanity to describe some third-world countries.
KCRG decided to explain to users how it was going to cover President Donald Trump’s use of profanity to describe some third-world countries. In the opinion piece, a news manager explains how they are going to cover the story differently than other media organizations, by focusing on the “why” and not the reactionary soundbites. This post allowed the newsroom to explain its news values and set itself apart from “the media,” a group that when lumped together can often be criticized and distrusted. KCRG also shared the post on Facebook and asked for feedback on how they chose to cover the story.
KCRG decided to explain to users how it was going to cover President Donald Trump's use of profanity to describe some third-world countries.
KCRG decided to explain to users how it was going to cover President Donald Trump’s use of profanity to describe some third-world countries. In the opinion piece, a news manager explains how they are going to cover the story differently than other media organizations, by focusing on the “why” and not the reactionary soundbites. This post allowed the newsroom to explain its news values and set itself apart from “the media,” a group that when lumped together can often be criticized and distrusted. KCRG also shared the post on Facebook and asked for feedback on how they chose to cover the story.
Many news organizations host booths at festivals, but the Fort Worth Star-Telegram staff went a step further.
Many news organizations host booths at festivals, but the Fort Worth Star-Telegram staff went a step further. On top of showing up at a popular community event and interacting with the public, they decided to also help register people to vote. By being present in the community they allowed people to see them as real people and get to know them better. When people meet journalists and get to know them it can help build trust for the individual journalist, but also the news organization and the journalism industry as a whole.
Many news organizations host booths at festivals, but the Fort Worth Star-Telegram staff went a step further.
Many news organizations host booths at festivals, but the Fort Worth Star-Telegram staff went a step further. On top of showing up at a popular community event and interacting with the public, they decided to also help register people to vote. By being present in the community they allowed people to see them as real people and get to know them better. When people meet journalists and get to know them it can help build trust for the individual journalist, but also the news organization and the journalism industry as a whole.
Community Impact wanted to make sure its users understood how it was approaching primary election season. In a post on their website, they stressed how they will be reaching out to all candidates in contested races and would not be endorsing candidates. They also shared which races they would be covering. This post did not inspire negative comments from users, something that is rare for a political story.
Community Impact wanted to make sure its users understood how it was approaching primary election season. In a post on their website, they stressed how they will be reaching out to all candidates in contested races and would not be endorsing candidates. They also shared which races they would be covering. This post did not inspire negative comments from users, something that is rare for a political story.
The Jefferson City News Tribune created story pages for some of their bigger stories that provided a summary of the issue and then links to the previous stories written. In addition to a well-written summary of the issue, the news organization highlighted how "balanced and accurate reporting" was a priority for them and that creating a page like this, a one-stop shop with story links for big issues, is one way they are working to provide a full view of the issues.
The Jefferson City News Tribune created story pages for some of their bigger stories that provided a summary of the issue and then links to the previous stories written. In addition to a well-written summary of the issue, the news organization highlighted how “balanced and accurate reporting” was a priority for them and that creating a page like this, a one-stop shop with story links for big issues, is one way they are working to provide a full view of the issues.
While covering a local political story that was divisive in the community, the Jefferson City News Tribune decided to write about their approach to covering the issue. On their website they published a column explaining the news decisions they made and how they incorporated coverage from national news organizations. Their goal was to explain to users that they were making news coverage decisions with the public in mind. They said they received positive and negative feedback, with one individual saying the column motivated them to reach out to the newsroom.
While covering a local political story that was divisive in the community, the Jefferson City News Tribune decided to write about their approach to covering the issue. On their website, they published a column explaining the news decisions they made and how they incorporated coverage from national news organizations. Their goal was to explain to users that they were making news coverage decisions with the public in mind. They said they received positive and negative feedback, with one individual saying the column motivated them to reach out to the newsroom.
The State wanted to make sure all members of one of their Facebook groups understood their community guidelines. They also wanted to revist the rules to clearly state what is allowed and what is not. Once they came up with the revised guidelines, they pinned the post to the top of the group. Here is what they posted: "The Buzz is a place on Facebook where those interested in South Carolina politics can discuss current events and related topics. We encourage thoughtful comments from a wide range of viewpoints, and support passionate and respectful dialogue. We will not tolerate personal attacks, threats, obscenity, profanity, political campaigning or commercial promotion. Moderators maintain the right to remove violating comments and suspend or ban users when necessary."
The State wanted to make sure all members of one of their Facebook groups understood their community guidelines. They also wanted to revisit the rules to clearly state what is allowed and what is not. Once they came up with the revised guidelines, they pinned the post to the top of the group. Here is what they posted: “The Buzz is a place on Facebook where those interested in South Carolina politics can discuss current events and related topics. We encourage thoughtful comments from a wide range of viewpoints and support passionate and respectful dialogue. We will not tolerate personal attacks, threats, obscenity, profanity, political campaigning or commercial promotion. Moderators maintain the right to remove violating comments and suspend or ban users when necessary.”
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.
When hosting a debate, Annenberg Media had to decided who was going to moderate the conversation. The decision was not taken lightly and there was a lot of thought that went into the process. They wanted to make sure they were being fair, unbiased and thinking about diversity while selecting a moderator. To explain their decision process and how they chose a debate moderator, they created a video for Instagram Stories and YouTube.
When hosting a debate, Annenberg Media had to decided who was going to moderate the conversation. The decision was not taken lightly and there was a lot of thought that went into the process. They wanted to make sure they were being fair, unbiased and thinking about diversity while selecting a moderator. To explain their decision process and how they chose a debate moderator, they created a video for Instagram Stories and YouTube.

screenshot from thegazette.com, showing a pull-out box with multiple perspectives.

 

screenshot from thegazette.com, showing a pull-out box with multiple perspectives.
The Gazette highlighted how they bring multiple perspectives into each story they cover by adding a pull-out box to their web story. The box highlighted what people on each side of the issue thought, shared a link to their in-depth coverage and asked users for feedback.
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.