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Today's trust tip: Help your users be smarter news consumers 

Hi there. Mollie here.

Consuming news has felt especially challenging these days. Not only are the news events themselves hard to digest, but we’re also at a level of total information overload. Mix that with widely shared conspiracy theories and politicized public health information and you get a confusing and overwhelming output of news circulating on social media feeds. And man, sometimes it can be really hard to tell which of that content is real, agenda-driven or altogether untrue.

Even as a trained journalist and a self-described skeptic, I’ve been duped by seemingly credible articles shared by friends or family, or doctored screenshots of the president's tweets that at first glance were really believable. So think about how frustrating it must be for folks who are trying to get good, accurate information about their communities but don't have the knowledge or training to decipher what’s credible information and what’s not? And how can we expect that same audience to trust the news we're producing when there is indeed bad information out there that shouldn’t be trusted? 

Adam Richter, the digital news editor for the Reading Eagle, wrote a column about how news literacy can help restore trust. He suggests teaching readers to trace the root of the story, which includes how to differentiate news from opinion, how to tell if the information is being sourced, and if those sources are reliable. Trust in the media is declining, Richter notes, but “helping readers better understand how people in the news industry do their jobs could go a long way in restoring some of that confidence.”


Here’s another great idea from ProPublica health care reporter Marshall Allen. As the recently popular conspiracy video Plandemic was being shared and questioned by folks in his own circles, Allen wrote a column about the questions he asks to evaluate misinformation. (We also just shared tips on how to take extra care when writing about conspiracy theories.) In the column, Allen includes a checklist that he’s shared with friends to help them interrogate content (and note in the column he invites that users be skeptical of news published from ProPublica, too). 

Here’s the series of questions he poses for users to ask when consuming content: 

  • Is the presentation one-sided? 
  • Is there an independent pursuit of the truth? 
  • Is there a careful adherence to the facts? 
  • Are those accused allowed to respond? 
  • Are all sources named and cited, and if not, is the reason explained?
  • Does the work claim some secret knowledge? 
Imagine a world where every person in your audience used a checklist like this each time they watched a video on Facebook, heard something on the radio or read a news article. Think about how much better equipped your audience would be to sort out what news is credible, and which news is not. 

While we can’t control the spread of bad or inaccurate news, what we can do is give our users basic knowledge about the news gathering process to help empower them to be smarter about their own news consumption. The more your audience understands how to spot fact-based journalism, the more likely they are to turn to organizations like yours as a trusted news source. 

TRY THIS: Write a social post or column with a checklist of things your audience can look for when they see a social post or an article being shared they feel unsure about. Here are a few to start with from Trusting News Director Joy Mayer: First, check the sources. See if stated information is being cited and where it’s being cited from. Second, look to see when the story was published to make sure it’s not outdated news. And third, if it seems unlikely or hard to believe, try Googling it to see if you can corroborate the information from other sources. In the post, encourage your audience to be skeptics about the news they see, and remind them that not all news is created equal. Give them knowledge and tips to understand how the process works. Not only will this help your readers be better at consuming news, it will also highlight how your organization is committed to getting the facts right.  

— Mollie Muchna, Trusting News project assistant 

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Trusting News aims to demystify trust in news and empower journalists to take responsibility for actively demonstrating credibility and earning trust. It is a project of the Reynolds Journalism Institute and the American Press Institute

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