Trust in media is earned, not given. In today’s digital age, where there are minimal barriers to entry into content production and distribution, it’s more important than ever for readers to understand what makes a trustworthy news source.
That provided the inspiration for Forum Communications Company (FCC) — a family-owned media organisation operating print, digital, and broadcast news brands all throughout the upper Midwest of the United States — to launch Trust Week. The self-branded week, which was strategically implemented April 3-7 (the first full week following April Fool’s Day), was aimed at building trust with the company’s anonymous news readers and subscribers alike, with five key goals:
- Train readers on distinguishing truth from fiction, especially regarding the news.
- Reinforce what makes local news trustworthy compared to other sources.
- Understand what readers want and expect from their news.
- Sell subscriptions that support keeping trusted news in the community.
- Tell the stories of how local news (or lack thereof) has impacted communities.
Gearing up to share trust
Leading up to Trust Week, newsrooms throughout the company were tasked with becoming the subjects of their own stories.
During the event, journalists published content highlighting what goes into producing and vetting local news, including explainers on journalistic ethics, how newsrooms handle corrections, and tips for readers on differentiating news from opinion.
Content also included a day-in-the-life video series offering a glimpse into the work lives of specific on-staff reporters, pieces about the effect of communities becoming news deserts, and podcasts on earning trust in media featuring the company’s own reporters and outside experts in the field.
All content published during Trust Week was compiled onto a featured landing page on each of the company’s news sites, delivered to newsletter subscribers via exclusive pop-up newsletters and distributed via multiple marketing channels.
In addition to engaging audiences with content about the journalistic process, FCC also used the week to encourage a two-way dialogue with readers. Throughout the week, readers were encouraged to share feedback through a specific Trust Week e-mail address, submit story ideas to the Trust Week team, and engage in on-site polls on trust-related topics.
And, in an effort to expose all readers to the full value of local news — regardless of subscription status — the media company removed paywalls from its entire network of sites for the duration of Trust Week. This included not just stories related to the event, but all content.
Although the content was free to consume during the week, subscriptions were still a central focus of the event, as FCC educated readers on the value of news subscriptions and their essential role in funding journalism operations.
Feedback from readers throughout Trust Week was resoundingly positive, and by all metric-based standards, the event was a success. Unique visitors to the company’s portfolio of sites during the week were 40% higher than average, and despite not gating any content for the duration of Trust Week, nearly 500 readers converted to paying subscribers.
FCC plans to grow the event each year and hopes other news organisations will join, eventually making Trust Week a globally recognised event.