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3 ways newsrooms can regain their readers' trust

3 ways newsrooms can regain their readers' trust

Sam Berkhead | February 28, 2017

In today’s era of misinformation, trust in the media remains one of the biggest problems facing news organizations. In the U.S. alone, barely a third of the population trusts the media to report the facts.

What can be done to reverse this trend? How can news outlets of all sizes and audiences reach out to readers, establishing themselves as trustworthy sources of information?

Trusting News, a recent study by the Reynolds Journalism Institute, sought to find the answer — and its results can serve as a blueprint for newsrooms everywhere.

“As journalists, we want the work we do to be noticed,” said Joy Mayer, project lead. “We believe in what we do; we just need to know how to explain it to our readers.”

The study, conducted by a team of student researchers at the Missouri School of Journalism in partnership with 14 newsrooms nationwide, aimed to find successful trust-building techniques on Facebook. It focused on three strategies, each one with specific metrics meant to measure its success. The first strategy, "telling your story," is most concerned with tracking engagement rate metrics. The success rate of the second strategy, "engaging authentically," is assessed via qualitative and quantitative comment analysis, as well as reactions to interactions; while the third, "deploying your fans," focuses on the number of shares and tags. All three were compared to the newsrooms' usual engagement rates.

Here’s a look at some key takeaways from the report:

Tell your story

Mayer explained that one of the biggest surprises she saw during the study was how difficult it was for journalists to tell their story or talk about themselves. Yet the study found that telling your story — communicating that you or your newsroom’s values align with those of your readers — is essential.

After being trained to keep yourself out of the story, it can be challenging to do the opposite. The study found that journalists can successfully do this by sharing behind-the-scenes looks at high-interest newsroom decisions or projects, as well as by highlighting what makes your staff credible or qualified. Successful posts didn’t feel forced or contrived; they were able to naturally pair behind-the-scenes information with topics of high interest to readers.

Engage authentically

Perhaps most important in building trust with readers is through direct dialogue. Conversation and interaction that feel natural and human to readers are key to developing a rapport with audiences, the study discovered. This can be achieved through rewarding productive comments and challenging inaccurate or harmful ones, as well as adding emotion or perspective into your own comments. If your readers are on the reticent side, start out with prompts on more accessible or appealing topics. Over time, they’ll be more willing to add their thoughts on nuanced, complex topics, the study observed.

Deploy your fans

Every newsroom hopes its content will be shared across social platforms. But hoping for shares won’t work if the content itself isn’t something readers want to share. That’s why newsrooms that specifically encouraged sharing found more success than those that didn’t. The study notes that the social media posts most likely to be shared had a “pass this along” quality. Additionally, encouraging readers to share posts that were light in tone or helpful — think of how-to articles or stories with a strong public interest angle — tended to be more successful.

For a closer look at how to replicate the study’s successes at your own news outlet, check out the study’s ideas worth stealing. To learn more about how newsrooms can build trust with their followers, tune in to a free webinar from Poynter’s News University on Thursday, March 2, led by Mayer.

Main image CC-licensed by Flickr via daliscar1.

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