Research: Transparency is great — if readers notice

By Katalina Deaven

Center for Media Engagement

Austin, Texas, USA

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We know readers and journalists alike think newsrooms could be more transparent. Adding story features that help audiences understand the reporting process can be valuable in demonstrating transparency and building trust. In our latest study, we teamed up with McClatchy to test whether a card showing how and why a story was written can help achieve this goal.

What worked: a recap

In previous research conducted with Trusting News, we tested a box that explained how and why a story was reported. We found adding the box increased trust.

Using this work as inspiration, McClatchy designed its Behind the Story card. We then explored whether the placement of the card on news organisations’ Web sites affects readers’ recall of the card and trust in the news organisation.

The Behind the Story card provides background information on the reporting process.
The Behind the Story card provides background information on the reporting process.

Testing the new approach

When we showed the card to readers outside of the context of the article, most of them said the card would increase their trust in a news organisation. Despite the fact the card appealed to most readers, most did not notice the card when it was placed in an article. Furthermore, the card’s presence in the article did not affect trust.

In testing the placement of the card, it was either placed in line with the news article text, at the bottom of the news article, or not placed at all. As previously noted, most readers failed to notice the card. Non-subscribers did notice the card more often when it was in line with the article, but it still didn’t affect trust.

What newsrooms can do

While the cards weren’t effective in building trust when placed within an article in this particular experiment, it doesn’t mean the practice won’t work at all.

Readers did say the cards, in theory, would increase trust. And we know from our “Explain Your Process” experiment that providing story background can increase trust. The problem here was that readers didn’t notice the cards when they were embedded in the story.

The takeaway for newsrooms is to make sure readers notice your efforts. Try a version of the “Explain Your Process” box. Try a version of the Behind the Story cards. Just make sure the design is highly visible and not likely to be skipped.

We know readers want more transparency. It’s worth testing these features if it can lead to higher levels of trust from your audience.

About Katalina Deaven