The Secret to Restoring People’s Trust in Media

Let’s stop complaining and start winning it back

Source: Philip Strong, Unsplash

Since I’ve started my social journalism program at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism three months ago, the top comment every professor, fellow colleague and guest speaker from the media industry has uttered was:

“People don’t trust the media anymore.”

The election has definitely played a part in this lingering mistrust, but it’s been over four months since Nov. 8 happened, and I say it’s time to finally explore some options to win that trust back.

Last week, my social-j classmates and I were able to chat with Jeremy Hay, co-founder of Spaceship Media. He talked to us about his experience with a new approach to journalism, which emphasized exactly what Social Journalism is all about.

Hay and his team worked on a project called the Alabama/California Conversation, where reporters would make the effort to meet individuals within a community and really get to know them. In this case, it was women from California who supported Clinton, and women from Alabama who supported Trump.

While doing that, the reporters would be extremely transparent with their intentions and clarify that they were not representing one side or the other. The reporters would always keep their journalistic neutrality and emphasize the fact that the upcoming project would be a civil collaboration. 
(hint: this helps to build trust)

In the next step, these women were then brought together in groups on Facebook, and encouraged to talk about (mostly) political topics.

Before this happened, though, Hay’s team asked the women four questions, which really everyone should always keep in mind when dealing with others who have opposing views, no matter in what context:

  1. What do you think the Trump/Clinton supporters think about you?
  2. What do you think about them?
  3. What do you want the Trump/Clinton supporters to know about you?
  4. What do you want to know about them?

These questions allowed the women to talk about topics with a sense of understanding, and gave them some perspective on why the other party felt the way they did.

Here is where journalism comes in

By talking among each other, the women very often raised questions or discovered topics for which both sides needed more information. Hay’s team would then go and report on these topics, and therefore, was able to provide them with exactly the answers they needed.

So, content was created by putting two communities together and simply listening to their needs.

The outcome was a build-up of trust between the reporters and these women, who, long after the project ended, still communicate with each other today and reach out to Hay’s team to ask for more reporting.

Hay said building relationships with individuals is crucial, not only between journalists and the individuals within a community, but also between the individuals from different communities.

The reporting which was curated through this project was able to change some of the perceptions the women had of the “other side”, and helped them see each other as more than just who they voted for.

Trust doesn’t restore itself — communication is key

Andrew Haeg, CEO of GroundSource, talked to my Metrics & Outcomes class, and he also endorsed this type of reporting.

He said it’s highly important for a journalist to find out what people are going trough, as this will change the way people are talking to reporters.

The key to achieve that is by spending time inside a community and to listen. This will help with figuring out the dynamics within a community, and also what language to use when talking to individuals.

The more journalists spend time with their communities and listen to what content they need the most, the more people will naturally trust them.

However, it’s important to always be as transparent and honest as possible, and to constantly communicate what you can and cannot do as a journalist, so the possibility of overpromising change (which results in a loss of trust) can be avoided.

Obviously, it’s not the job of a reporter to solve every issue the world has. However, what journalists can do is help raise awareness to an issue or highlight a community that is in need of support.

When people realize that this is what the intentions of journalists are, trust will ultimately begin to reappear.

There you have it, a recipe for restoring trust. Sounds feasible, doesn’t it?