Educator: Earn trust with sources


Today’s journalism educators are sending students into a complicated media landscape. These Trusting News Educator Trust Kits will give you research-backed strategies to help prepare students to build trust with communities. The kits have been designed to help students learn about the media and how news works while preparing students for work in a newsroom or other information-sharing position. Learn more about our goals with these kits and how to best use them here

How students can earn trust with sources (ADVANCED) 

Being interviewed by a journalist can be intimidating due to the power imbalance, as individuals share their life, opinions, and experiences without control over portrayal.

Mistakes can range from excluding them to factual inaccuracies, context omission, or a technically correct yet untrue story. News features can harm reputations, businesses, and safety, fostering reasonable wariness and vulnerability.

Journalists can ease this by explaining the process and building trust, especially when dealing with non-routine sources unfamiliar with journalistic interactions. This is particularly pertinent for individuals engaging with journalists for the first time.

The assignments, activities and materials in this Trust Kit will help students learn that sharing information about others is a privilege and will show students how to approach sources with humility and compassion.    

Start with the basics: This is an advanced lesson best for higher level or more advanced journalism students who have some experience with reporting. If you’re just broaching the subject of trust and transparency with your students, we recommend you start with this Educator Trust Kit, How to Talk About Journalism and “The Media”

Sharing information about others is a privilege.

Help students understand this and learn how to approach sources with humility and compassion.

  • Review data and research explaining why earning trust with people is important
  • Learn tips for how to build credibility with people and treat them ethically
  • Learn how to interact with a source, before, during and after a story has been published
  • Practice how to approach people to be a potential source
  • Understand how transparency can help make being a source less scary for the public


Using this in your classroom

Here are two curriculum outlines based on the provided learning objectives and in-class activities — all of which you’ll find in this Trust Kit. These curriculum outlines can be adjusted as needed to fit specific time constraints and student needs.

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Classroom agenda: 50 minute class

Objective: Introduce students to the importance of trust in journalism, tips for building credibility with sources, and understanding mistrust within their own news organization.

Classroom agenda: 90 minute class

 Objective: Explore trust-building strategies, transparency, and design thinking for restoring consumer trust in journalism.

 Teaching materials

Use the following resources to lead your students through this curriculum. The materials include videos, articles and slideshows. All can be used during class, assigned before class or as part of assignments or discussions. These materials can be supplemented as needed to fit specific time learning objectives and student needs.

Expand each of the following blue boxes by clicking or tapping the + sign.

Expert materials (for educators)

The content below has been selected to help teachers and professors dive deeper and become an expert on the topic.

In-class activities 

Below are in-class activities you can use to help your students better understand these topics while gaining deeper knowledge through peer interaction and hands-on learning.

Expand each of the following blue boxes by clicking or tapping the + sign.

In-class activity 1: Understand mistrust in your own journalism

Give some thought to what gets in the way of users’ trust in your own news organization. Look at your feedback loop — emails to the newsroom, comments on your website and on social media, and feedback your staff hears in person. 

  • Look for signals of mistrust in the people, processes or integrity behind the journalism. What are some common threads? Identify two or three themes. Describe the nature of each assumption, complaint or attitude. Screenshot or quote examples from each one. 
  • What two or three things do you wish your specific audience or community understood about what you do? 
    • If the audience understood those things, how would that benefit the journalists? How would your job be easier if you were better understood?
    • What would the benefits be for the audience? How would their news consumption be improved if they understood you better? 
In-class activity 2: Reimagine the news (finding possible solutions)

Thanks to Kirsten Johnson of Elizabethtown College for contributing this assignment.

Using your knowledge of why people distrust the news and the complaints you hear from news consumers, brainstorm possible solutions to these problems or ways journalists can better address them. The design thinking prompt might be:

Reimagine the news so that consumer trust and confidence can be restored.

Lead them through the design thinking process and have them come up with solutions. They will then report their solutions to the group. If any of the solutions seem like something we can implement while creating stories during the class, we will.

Having them come up with solutions will create buy-in, in a way that solutions imposed upon them by me, will not. Follow up with examples from Trusting News to see what strategies newsrooms are actually implementing.

Suggestion: Consider using a Google doc to easily collect and share the outcome of this activity. Here is an example of how I gathered the student responses from students during one of my classes. — Lynn Walsh



Use the below assignments to help student gain a better understanding of the topics while practicing related skills. Each assignment has a printable Google Doc and a grading rubric.

Expand each of the following blue boxes by clicking or tapping the + sign.

Assignment 1: Interview news sources

Find a printable Google Doc of the assignment and grading rubric here. 

What do people who are frequently interviewed by journalists have to say about the process? Some people have a naturally adversarial role with the press, and that’s appropriate. There will always be people with public roles (perhaps even elected roles) who wish journalists weren’t holding them accountable or watching what they do. But whether they like journalists isn’t the question. The question is whether they feel accurately represented and respected by journalists. 

Journalists should care about the answer to that question. They should think more about the experience of being interviewed. They should properly prepare sources who are newer to the process. They should value the trust that people put in them when they agree to have their story told to the public. 

This assignment is to talk to someone who has recently (or frequently) been interviewed by a journalist. The goal is for it to make you more empathetic to that experience and more respectful of your responsibility to ethical, fair treatment. After all, most sources don’t owe it to journalists to open themselves up for an interview. It’s in our best interest to understand what the experience is like. 

  • Why did you agree to be interviewed? 
  • Did anything surprise you about the interview process?
  • Was your name (and title, or role) represented correctly?
  • Did you feel like the journalist listened well and understood what you were saying?
  • Did you feel like the journalist had an open mind about where the story would go?
  • Were the facts of what you shared represented correctly?
  • Were the tone, nuance and context of what you shared represented correctly?
  • Did anything surprise you about what was said about you? 

Write a reflection on what you learned. Include recommendations for journalists.


Assignment 2: Create a student calling card

Find a printable Google Doc of the assignment and grading rubric here. 

Thanks to Sue Robinson at the University of Wisconsin – Madison for contributing this assignment.

In this assignment at the beginning of the semester as part of their work on knowing their identities and places of bias in relation to their specialty, they create a 300-word calling card to hand out to sources stating: 

  • Name
  • Pronouns
  • Phone number
  • Email
  • Topic reporting on and why
  • Which of their identities may influence how they think about the topic and the process they will take to consider those influences and perhaps counteract them
  • Their relationship with the community and topics they cover

(This could also be attached to an email, shared on social, texted as an image, or printed as a handout.)

Related assignment: Write a process box that focuses on their identities, especially any that might have influenced the story (how the story was created, what sources were used and who was not used, who was interviewed, who would not talk, what information they did not get, etc.). 

We’re here to help!

If you have questions about these kits or have used the content in your classroom and have feedback or suggestions, please contact Lynn Walsh,

Trusting News would like to thank the Scripps Howard Fund for funding the creation of these kits. We would also like to thank the many educators who have worked with us through the years and inspired this work.

If you would like more resources to bring into your classroom check out our other Trust Kits.