What makes people trust a news publication? How can publishers build trust with readers? These are questions that many digital publishers have asked. Now, we’ve got the answers.
Despite all the talk of “fake news,” the truth is that trust in the media is still relatively strong. According to a survey by the Reuters Institute, the average level of trust in the news in general sits at 44% globally. More than half (51%) of consumers say they trust the news media that they consume “most of the time.”
Those numbers aren’t bad, but they could certainly be better.
Trust is also set to become an issue that impacts publishers’ bottom lines, if Facebook and other social media giants begin incorporating brand trust scores into the algorithms that determine which content users see in their news feeds.
Restoring trust among readers won’t happen overnight, but digital publishers can still make it happen using these proven techniques.
Publishing Strategies to Build Trust With Readers
1) Offer supplementary information
Today’s readers don’t just want to know what the facts are. They want to know how those facts were obtained and why they should believe that they are valid. A study from the Center for Media Engagement at the University of Texas, Austin, found that adding a simple box that explains the story process can go a long way for publishers looking to build trust with readers. Examples of details that can be included in a supplementary information box include topics like, “How we reported this story,” “Why we’re publishing this article,” and “How we took steps to be fair.”
In surveys, readers said that articles that ran alongside boxes with supplementary information were more fair, accurate, informative, transparent, and credible. Those are pretty incredible attributes for any news publisher, but particularly for a digital publisher at a small-but-growing publication.
2) Get readers involved
Readers can’t complain about the fairness of coverage when they themselves took part in creating it. While it’s unlikely that everyday readers will be able to contribute full-length articles on a regular basis, publishers can still build trust with readers by highlighting the best comments and contributions alongside articles that run online.
Don’t assume that readers know that they’re invited to contribute, either. Banner ads and periodic reminders in email newsletters can be used to solicit reader contributions. Forms placed prominently on the homepage are also a worthwhile addition. Just make sure those forms include an attachment feature, so readers can attach documentation or supporting evidence for any news items they’re submitting.
3) Focus on the local angle
When the Knight Foundation hosted its regular gathering of funders and journalism insiders in Miami last month, there was a lot of talk about sustainability in local news and rebuilding trust in the media. One of the key points made by presenters was that local news is the ideal place for the news media to start rebuilding the trust that’s been broken in the “fake news” era, and more directly, that the closer publishers can connect neighbors and news, the stronger their communities become. It’s a powerful message, and one that digital publishers should keep at the forefront of their minds as they continue planning their strategies for long-term growth.
Readers trust what they can see, and they can see the community that’s right outside their windows. Therefore, publishers who really want to build trust with readers should start by covering the topics that their readers care about in their own communities. Establish that basic foundation of trust before expanding into broader topics that might be harder for local readers to grasp.
4) Take the opportunity to explain
Editors serve a number of roles at digital news publications, but one of those roles needs to be “Explainer-in-Chief.” Take a moment as the editor of your publication to write the occasional column about how controversial stories came to be or how reporters at the publication do their jobs on a daily basis. You’d be surprised at how few people understand the inner workings of a news publication.
Educating readers about why certain decisions were made and the challenges of running a small digital publication—and at the very least, explaining that reporters don’t write the headlines—will go a long way in building trust.
What other strategies have you seen publishers implement as they work to build trust among readers?