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Building trust: A primer

Building trust is essential. Start with understanding the issues: Namely, erosion of public trust in journalism, mistrust between news organizations and fractured trust within newsroom themselves.

Newsrooms are grappling with a huge array of trust issues. Most apparent to the outside world is the erosion of the public’s trust in journalism, a decline that has paralleled the rise of the internet and the fragmentation of information sources. Here, social media has taken center stage, both enabling a much broader range of voices to be heard and exacerbating self-selecting information bubbles and pernicious channels of misinformation.

Then there’s the mistrust between news organizations, baked into the DNA of a competitive media market that must now find ways to collaborate in order to survive and thrive.

And finally, there’s the fractured trust within newsrooms themselves, with an upended journalism environment fueling schisms along every conceivable line of conflict, from legacy versus digital, to gender, race and age, to shifting standards of fairness and balance, to where and how to integrate sales, marketing and community outreach into newsroom culture.

So how do we fix these problems? It isn’t easy, but the key steps include:

  • Understand the erosion of public trust: It’s all too easy to adopt a defensive stance, shrugging off public mistrust of journalism as unsolvable and blaming it on either willful ignorance or dismissing it as a partisan problem. That’s a giant mistake. Instead, it’s critical to turn the journalistic gaze onto ourselves, taking a close, clear-eyed look at the roots of this mistrust and being open to making the changes that a close study of the problem brings to light.
  • Aggressively and consistently work to build credibility: Put in the work to identify the ways your particular news organization can build trust with the public. There should be an emphasis on accuracy, accountability, transparency and factual reality, but the contours will vary depending on your newsroom’s resources and priorities.
  • Embrace partnerships: As you now know from reading “The Essentials,” particularly Table Stake No. 6 (“partner to expand your capacity and capabilities”), collaboration is critical. It can build trust between news organizations and enhance the overall credibility of those organizations with the public by demonstrating a willingness to prioritize the public good that can come from leveraging pooled resources over the self-interest of going it alone. Strategically partnering with an outlet or outlets with a proven track record of collaboration success can ease an often difficult but rewarding process.
  • Take an honest look at the breakdown of trust within your newsroom: Acknowledge and address the fractures inside your own organization that are hindering your work and develop a plan to remedy them. Make sure all the pieces and parts of your news outlet are aligned with the overall mission, strategies and tactics of your organization.