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Weekly actionable tips for journalists to earn and sustain trust

Today's trust tip: Use major news events to build trust

Hi there. Lynn here. 

Whether it is big breaking news, a high-profile trial, a weather event or a championship game, major events can bring a lot of people to your content. Some of these people may be loyal subscribers, viewers or listeners. But others might be consuming your content for the first time and don't know anything about your newsroom and the work you do. Situations like that can be a great opportunity to build trust.

When covering major events, I think newsrooms often do a pretty good job of planning out their coverage. We think of the different angles and who will be reporting on what. We think through the logistics of gathering the content and also publishing the content. We create multiple plans for coverage and anticipate different scenarios. When you think about it, in situations where we know about the event ahead of time, we actually do a lot of planning.

So, why don't we do a better job of sharing some of this with our audience?

Imagine if an audience knew about the thoughtfulness that went into covering major events. Or if they were able to hear the conversations about how we strive for fairness and balance. I think, at the very least, they would give us more credit for our work and hopefully begin to trust us more too.

Let's build trust through our coverage of major events by:

  • Creating a landing page to keep related content in one place
  • Not forgetting to provide the basics
  • Explaining where the latest information can be found, where it's coming from and who is gathering it
  • Sharing your coverage goals and priorities

Create a landing page

Consider keeping the relevant and most important stories related to a big event all on a single page of your website. This helps a user find the information they need in one place. In addition to linking to your coverage on this page, think about writing a summary of the event.

Lots of newsrooms have pages that serve as reverse chronological lists of related stories. But too often those lists don't actually guide users to what they're looking for. They don't help people navigate to specific answers or updates. They don't pin then most crucial details to the top of the page, or tell them what to expect from coverage. 

Consider this example from Minnesota Public Radio, which has prominent links such as a timeline of the case up top (followed down below by a long list of related stories). Another key aspect of this top text: some basic facts.

Provide the basics

Think about what the user needs to know before diving deep into this story or topic. Once you have a list, see what stories have been produced that help provide that information. If stories don't exist that answer basic questions or provide background information, consider creating them and adding them to your landing page.

This may mean explaining basic concepts, like how to vote or how a trial works. Starting at the beginning can be really useful. If a user learns from you, they will be grateful you and your news organization were there to answer their question and provide the information.

Think of it like a Wikipedia page. Sometimes, you want the top-level facts. Remember, many people are balancing national news coverage or multiple news sources to get their information. This can sometimes mean they are wading through conflicting and contradicting versions of reality. To help them, let's remember to separate facts from other storytelling. Too often, important information appears under a clever headline, anecdotal lead or outdated update. Don't make someone find and then read through a three-day-old story to get the information they need. Separate it out and make it easy to find.


Explain where information is coming from

As journalists, we can't always share facts that bring clarity. Sometimes, our reporting reveals just how much isn't known. But we can demonstrate that we are paying focused, prolonged attention to the questions that matter most. 

You can do this by sharing where you will look for information. Are there agencies or certain individuals you will be following up with and in constant contact with? If so, where will you publish this information? Where can users find it and when? Will it be updated immediately or should I wait until your 5 p.m. newscast to get the latest. 

In breaking news situations, we all know that the information we are reporting is the most accurate and best information we have at that moment. But, have we helped our audience navigate fast-changing information? Tell your audience this throughout your reporting and consider adding editor's notes to the tops of stories where this applies.

KPCC does a good job of this by sometimes adding a "How we're reporting on this" box to stories. This example included the names of the journalists and what their role was in the coverage.

Discuss coverage goals and priorities

If you know there is an angle or something you are not going to be able to cover during a big event, say that. Explain why you are making that decision and how it fits into your coverage goals overall for this story and your news organization.

You will also want to explain why you are dedicating a lot of time to one topic or angle. Ask yourself: Does your audience know about your goals for coverage of this story? Or, like so much of journalism's internal deliberations, is your mission invisible to outsiders (you know, like the people you aim to serve).  Change that by talking about your coverage goals and priorities.

During the early months of COVID-19, newsrooms were spending time to do this. Executive Editor Steve Riley sent this newsletter out. (The yellow emphasis is mine.)


Try it out by articulating in a sentence (or a few) your approach to covering this topic or event. Then think about where you could insert that messaging. Try on-air, in a newsletter or in a social post. Try putting it in italics at the top of a story, or at the top of your landing page of coverage. If you have a box teasing from related stories back to that landing page, add it to that box. (Yes, on every story. Few people will notice, much less complain about, the repetition.)

Thank you for reading,

Lynn Walsh, assistant director of Trusting News
April 27, 2021
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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

Copyright © 2021 Trusting News, All rights reserved.

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