New Reuters report shares hard truths about reader trust

By Peter Bale


New Zealand and the U.K.


Welcome to the latest INMA Newsroom Initiative newsletter. This week I look at the RISJ Digital News Report and how it fits with the priorities of the INMA Newsroom Initiative. I also talk with AFP about its new free service to help journalists with verification techniques and protection online.

Reuters Institute report reinforces need for newsrooms to rethink trust and reader needs

Trust — how to promote it, keep it, and nourish it — is one of the three pillars of the INMA Newsroom Initiative. And the latest Digital News Report from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism shows in cold hard data that news organisations are often failing on trust.

At a time when consumers are making tough choices on how many subscriptions they’re prepared to keep — the median is a depressing one, yes one — and readers say they are turning off news because it makes them feel bad, it’s critical we get the trust deficit turned around.

The second master class of the Newsroom Initiative was all about trust. It could be a tool kit to understand some of the levers you can pull to promote trust, including reinforcing the commitment to trust in the newsroom — truly understanding what reader trust is and what human needs you’re seeking to stimulate or meet. Marketers know that; journalists need to.

The Reuters report's deep dive on news engagement within Finland.
The Reuters report's deep dive on news engagement within Finland.

Here are my takeaways from the RISJ Digital News Report as they apply to the pillars of the INMA Newsroom Initiative: business models for journalism, creating high-value journalism (which is mostly where trust lives), and impact and influence (which is the culture section really).

  • Trust is a critical human and consumer need. And trust in news media is falling in many critical markets, sliding back to and sometimes beyond levels from before the pandemic hit when consumers appeared to credit news media with communicating that well. Trust is solid in Finland, but weak in the United States. What is Finland doing right, both from a government and societal perspective, but also at its national daily Helsingor Sanomat?

  • Do newsrooms understand what their readers do and do not trust about their work? When did you last talk face-to-face with readers? In Wellington, Stuff recently moved its office to a street frontage, literally opening itself to its audience and scrutiny. In the trust master class, Sally Lehrman, chief executive of The Trust Project, addressed what newsrooms and media groups need to do to create or rebuild trust. 

  • If the median number of subscriptions is one — and in some markets a tiny percentage of readers say they pay for news, according to the RISJ report — how are you reaching consumers and generating alternative revenues? Events, advertising strategies that link premium content to premium advertising, doing stories that are genuinely uplifting and that reflect communities in an accurate way back to their members?

  • Is newsroom culture promoting trust between staff as well as between staff and their work and the audience? In a presentation to the INMA World Media Congress, Anna Åberg, managing editor of Dagens Nyheter, explained how the pandemic and working remotely taught her organisation important lessons about trust and collaboration.

Here are elements from the RISJ Digital News Report I found relevant to the Newsroom Initiative. I will let other Initiative leads deal with their specific areas:

  • “More people are disconnected, interest in news is down, selective news avoidance up, and trust far from a given,” the lead author of the report, Nic Newman, wrote.

  • “We … find evidence that the overwhelming and depressing nature of the news, feelings of powerlessness, and toxic online debates are turning many people away — temporarily or permanently.”

  • “Publishers will need to be even more focused on meeting the needs of specific audiences and demonstrating value to users.” [He could have said newsrooms.]

  • “Podcast growth has resumed this year in more than half of our markets after COVID-19 had disrupted the commute to work, negatively affecting news consumption.”

  • “A significant proportion of younger and less educated people say they avoid news because it can be hard to follow or understand — suggesting that the news media could do much more to simplify language and better explain or contextualise complex stories.”

If you have story types or approaches you think answer these issues, let me know and we can cover them in best practice sessions of the Newsroom Initiative:

Report on news deserts suggests readers favour Facebook if the local newspaper is weak

Coinciding with the release of the Reuters Institute report, the UK Charitable Journalism Project published a report that rather turned on its head the narrative many in local media would pitch: that they are more trustworthy than social media. It seems that as local newspapers cut back on offices and truly local reporting, readers are finding their news from groups on Facebook.

The UK Charitable Journalism Project studied Facebook's trust factor compared to local media.
The UK Charitable Journalism Project studied Facebook's trust factor compared to local media.

“In one example, the town of Trowbridge in Wiltshire has 44,000 residents — and more than 30,000 of them are in a single Facebook group,” The Guardian said in its coverage of the Charitable Journalism Project. You can download the report from here.

The Charitable Journalism Project — funded by Luminate (which is part of the philanthropic work of EBay founder Pierre Omidyar) and the British social justice donor The Joseph Rountree Reform Trust — is promoting British versions of the much more common non-profit news organisation, especially in local reporting where for-profit newspapers have shrunk drastically.

“The catastrophic financial collapse of the local news industry over the last two decades has destroyed the business model of local newspapers,” according to the Charitable Journalism Project. “Although consumers sometimes described these Facebook groups using terms such as ‘toxic’ and ‘racist,’ many said they provided more up-to-the-minute information than their local newspaper,” The Guardian report concluded.

AFP launches free and open digital skills training tool kit for journalists everywhere

Agence France Presse has built on its long experience in investigative journalism and fact-checking to create an online training course in digital journalism skills and self-protection that will launch this week in the first initiative of its kind by the French news agency.

“What we really like about this training is the fact that it really is easy access for all journalists: its for young and old,” Sophie Nicholson, deputy chief editor of AFP Fact Check in Paris, told me in an interview. “Weve tried to create something thats definitely not a nerdy thing for fact checking. We wanted to make it mainstream because these are basic [in] journalism today.”

Agence France Presse has created an online training course for journalists.
Agence France Presse has created an online training course for journalists.

The AFP Digital Investigation Techniques site is due to launch officially on June 23. The project is funded by the Google News Initiative.

Journalists anywhere can register on the site and go through basic, intermediate, and more advanced techniques and earn an AFP certificate. The skills include search techniques to verify images, finding archived material, and tracking down the origin of social media posts. The site is a public asset built on the news agency’s own training and experience in investigative journalism, verification, and an increasing role in fact-checking, some supported by grants from Facebook.

“We started [AFP Fact Check] in 2017, working on digital investigations, and fact-checking, which at the time was really niche and really nerdy and not really the thing that that many people in the newsroom were looking at,” Nicholson said. “We started learning just like basic skills for digital reporting. Its really a lot of the stuff that we train the people on in our team: digital skills. Its like the basics of searching efficiently, finding the origin of pictures and videos. It has all the tools and techniques — the essentials.”

Critically, the site also offers techniques and advice on how journalists can protect their identity, improve their security online, and deal with online harassment.

“Its also about staying safe online when you’re investigating things online,” she said. “As you go through the course, you’re checking where you’re appearing online, making sure that your passwords are safe because everyone knows you need to do those things. The other bit is about anticipating harassment because we’re really aware here at AFP that it’s not enough to react to it, we need processes in place to tell people how to anticipate things.”

The site reflects the new reality in journalism: that once specialist techniques of verification that groups like Bellingcat or specialist fact-checkers have used are now everyday techniques. In a world where errors and misinformation spread instantly, all journalists need these skills. That includes me, and I will do the course myself to bone up on skills that have gone rusty.

AFP will launch the site at the Global Fact Check conference in Oslo later this week.

Date for the dairy: Today’s Newsroom Initiative Meet-Up

We talk about innovation in newsrooms and news-led products, but how often do we actually succeed? Gabriel Sama has turned years of frustration in newsrooms into a plan, a framework, he reckons anyone can adapt and adopt to actually get stuff done.

Gabriel led a Newsroom Initiative Meet-Up today to talk about his formula for success and test it against your questions and experience. Gabriel described his ideas in a fascinating Medium post: Innovation Soup for The Newsroom’s Soul: A Framework for New Ideas. Noted user-needs expert Dmitry Shishkin joined us to critique Gabriel’s recipe.

If you missed it, INMA members can watch the full Webinar here to learn from their experience and analysis.

Recommended follow

Headlines Network @headlinesnetwork is a new non-profit to promote mental health and safety among journalists, not just those on dangerous assignments. We had its co-founder Hannah Storm speak in the master class on culture. Headlines Network is running a podcast — recently featuring Gina Chua talking about her transition and her new job at Semafor.

Talk back

Tell me what you want to read and what you like or dont like in this newsletter, please. E-mail: I also plan a Slack group. Interested?

About this newsletter

Today’s newsletter is written by Peter Bale, based in New Zealand and the U.K. and lead for the INMA Newsletter Initiative. Peter will share research, case studies, and thought leadership on the topic of global newsrooms.

This newsletter is a public face of the Newsroom Initiative by INMA, outlined here. E-mail Peter at or with thoughts, suggestions, and questions.

About Peter Bale

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