Audience trust is key to a newsroom’s success. But in this era of “fake news” and fading confidence in the media, it can be difficult to earn.

In our latest report, the Center for Media Engagement teamed up with Joy Mayer of Trusting News to see if using boxes that demonstrate transparency could help the issue. The study tested two approaches to building trust:

  • Showing the audience how journalists approached a story by adding an “explain your process” box to news stories.
  • Showing the audience a commitment to balanced coverage of partisan topics by adding a “demonstrating balance” box to news stories.

The experiments

The experiments tested the effects of two simple boxes on audience perceptions of a news organisation. “Explain your process” showed the journalistic process behind a story. “Demonstrating balance” presented readers with a chance to check out both sides of the issue.

The Explain Your Process box helped readers understand the journalistic process.
The Explain Your Process box helped readers understand the journalistic process.

The “explain your process” box aims to help readers understand the journalistic process. The box lays out how and why a news organisation chose to do a story and can include information like where reporters gathered information and how the reporter took steps to be fair.

Participants in this experiment viewed an actual story from one of two newsroom partners, USA Today or The Tennessean, on what appeared to be their Web sites. Half the participants viewed the story with the box and half viewed the story without it.

The Demonstrating Balance box explained how a balanced storytelling approach was used.
The Demonstrating Balance box explained how a balanced storytelling approach was used.

The “demonstrating balance” box aims to show readers a balanced approach to storytelling by providing a link to a story expressing the opposing partisan viewpoint. All participants in the experiment read an article on gun control.

One story focused on research suggesting gun control is needed to prevent mass shootings, and the other covered studies about approaches other than gun control. Half the participants viewed the story with the box, and half viewed the story without it.

The results

After testing the two approaches, we found adding a box showing readers the reporting process can help build trust. Findings were inconclusive for the “demonstrating balance” box.

In the “Explain Your Process” experiment:

  • Using the box improves how people perceive a news organisation.
  • The box boosted perceptions on 11 of 12 items related to trust: reputable, informative, trusted, credible, has integrity, fair, transparent, reliable, accurate, unbiased, and tells the whole story. Only “does not have an agenda” was unaffected by the presence of the box.

In the “Demonstrating Balance” experiment:

  • Using the box slightly improved perceptions of the news organisation.
  • Readers who saw the box rated the news organisation higher on two attributes: fair and does not have an agenda.
  • The effects were too small to suggest it will benefit newsrooms.
The Explain Your Process approach improved how people perceived a news organisation.
The Explain Your Process approach improved how people perceived a news organisation.

Suggestion for newsrooms

Try adding the “explain your process” box to your news stories. Reporters should already have the information from the news-gathering process, making it a fast and easy addition to your story. It’s is a low-risk step news organisations can take toward building trust with their audience.

The full report is available here.