Strong Focus on Trust is Critical to Future of News

Radically Rural Track: Community Journalism

SESSION 1 (Sept. 22, 10:30 a.m.-12:15 p.m.)

Building Trust: Measures to Secure Faith in Local Journalism

Build trust or lose readers, listeners and viewers. That’s the challenge facing news organizations these days, says a key speaker for Radically Rural’s Community Journalism Track.

  “You can’t change what people think in general about journalism, but you can recognize that peoples’ suspicions about and frustrations with national journalism are often valid,” says Joy Mayer, longtime journalist, professor and founder of Trusting News (trustingnews.org).

  Mayer, who will kick off Radically Rural’s community journalism sessions at 10:30 a.m., Sept. 22 at SHOWROOM in Keene, New Hampshire, and livestreamed online, will discuss the mission and work behind her organization since its genesis in 2016.  

  During her extensive years working in newsrooms and talking to her students, Mayer has watched as the narratives surrounding the media became more and more muddled in the minds of consumers across the country. The national political landscape and perception of national media have become increasingly polarized and tense. As a result, the burden has fallen on local journalists to take into account and be responsible for what their readers, viewers and listeners think about what journalism is.

  “There’s plenty of irresponsible, partisan, unhelpful things done in the name of journalism,” says Mayer, pointing to the mass distrust of the media in the U.S. “But, too often, journalists say, ‘there’s nothing I can do about it because people have their mind made up, and I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing and hope it gets better.’”

  To address these attitudes, from those who produce news to those who consume it, Mayer and her team have developed strategies that local journalists can utilize to tell a better story about what goes on behind newsroom doors. These new interaction methods invite readers to see their local journalists’ efforts distinguished from a larger, national conversation of distrust.

  “We see local journalists struggling with sources who don’t want to talk to them and a lot of myths and assumptions circulating about the business model of local newsrooms,” says Mayer. “It is time to move past these misconceptions in rural communities and promote a strong sense of pride in local news.”

  The Trusting News team believes that newsrooms need to understand the causes of user distrust before effectively taking ownership and prioritize earning back confidence in their work. At its core, Trusting News trains newsrooms to commit to standards of transparency and ethics, dedicate staff time to understanding distrust, explain the purpose, decision-making and processes of journalism, and actively invite and respond to audience feedback and questions.

While trust is hard to measure, Trusting News constantly engages in research that helps news organizations better understand where mistrust stems. At Radically Rural, Mayer will share newly published insights from her most recent research.

Trusting News invited newsrooms to talk to right-leaning readers in their communities and collected 91 in-depth interviews that share what people say about their local news and not just the media in general. Journalists who conducted those interviews now have important lessons to share and strategies to deal with that research.

Mayer, who teaches professional journalism both online for the NewsU program and at in-person seminars at the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Florida, also goes by the title of “audience engagement strategist.”

She will be joined at Radically Rural by Lynn Walsh, assistant director, Trusting News; Peter Huoppi, director of multimedia at The Day, a newspaper in New London, Connecticut; and Crystal Good, publisher/founder, Black by God-The West Virginian. Mayer and her panel hope to discuss how local newsrooms can empower staff to engage and defend the integrity of the brand they are creating together. The discussion will include topics of race representation in the newsroom, how to work and engage more openly with the community and what it’s like to be a person of color consuming local news.

Mayer hopes to see journalists, local news consumers, community leaders and organizers, law and policymakers and government leaders in her audience for her session.

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