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UF, News Integrity Initiative Partner to Assist Newsrooms in Use of Social Science to Help Increase Media Trust

Project looks beyond literacy and platforms to how audiences process and view information to help inform newsroom strategies

UF J-School
Apr 25, 2018 · 4 min read

April 25, 2018 — Gainesville, Fla. and New York, N.Y. — The University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications (UFCJC) and the News Integrity Initiative are forming a new partnership to examine what research from multiple academic disciplines tells us about community engagement and trust in news. The yearlong, $250,000 project will also develop experimental curriculum and training for local newsrooms to help implement best practices from that research into news coverage tactics.

“We know that the public cares about the institution of journalism and wants to offer their expertise, experiences and diverse perspectives,” said Molly de Aguiar, managing director of the News Integrity Initiative. “We also know that this runs counter to decades of newsroom practices that intentionally keep the public at arm’s length. Having a deeper understanding of the science behind consuming, processing and even avoiding information can help us create productive, collaborative partnerships between newsrooms and the communities they serve.”

“We’re convinced that insights from behavioral, cognitive and social science research can help newsrooms connect with their communities in new and meaningful ways,” said UFCJC Dean Diane McFarlin. “Newsrooms have an expectation that their audiences consume and process information in a certain way, but we collectively have very little insight into the science of how that actually happens. This form of research in the human mind is a powerful but underutilized tool for facilitating engagement, one we believe can inform a new culture in newsrooms.”

The first phase of the project will convene a summit of scholars and newsroom leaders and journalists in June to facilitate a conversation, or “living lit review,” tapping the expertise in fields such as sociology, behavior economics, psychology, neuroscience and others. The conversations, facilitated by journalists, will help inform strategies to increase trust between newsrooms and the communities they serve. The project is seeking insights into worldviews, identity, information avoidance, community building and other areas of research that can inform robust strategies to facilitate increased engagement and sustainability of news.

Following the June summit, the project’s team will synthesize and develop an actionable report and training program based on the conversations and supplemental research around these topics. Research professors at UFCJC will develop experiments to test the veracity of the findings in experiments run through the College’s Innovation News Center and other partner newsrooms representing a diversity of geography, media, audience and reach.

“We are excited to leverage our strength as one of the country’s preeminent journalism and communication ‘teaching hospitals’ to curate scholarship from a range of disciplines and apply it in practice,” McFarlin said. “Doing that in concert with the News Integrity Initiative, and the breadth of knowledge its leadership and partners bring, will amplify the power of these insights.”

The program will be managed at UF through the College’s experimental content and product incubator, Hatch, led by Journalism faculty member Matt Sheehan, in partnership with the College’s Center for Public Interest Communications. This project follows an initial “Science of Story Building” project funded in part by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation as part of the UF Innovators Series. That initial project took a deep dive into what science and research can tell us about what makes stories compelling, memorable and inspiring.

Information on this and the first ‘Science of Story Building’ exploration is available at

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The News Integrity Initiative is a philanthropic fund and a global coalition of newsrooms, nonprofits, technologists, and researchers to foster mutually trusting relationships between journalists and the communities they serve, while also tackling the spread of disinformation, and nurturing respectful and inclusive civic dialogue. NII and its partners envision a world in which people are armed with accurate, comprehensive news and information that strengthens their sense of ownership and opportunities in the places where they live and work, empowers them to participate in community decision-making, and deepens their understanding of and empathy for people of all backgrounds and experiences. NII is a project of the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism under the auspices of the

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The University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications, recognized by its peers as one of the premier programs in the country, is driving innovation and engagement across the disciplines of advertising, journalism, public relations and telecommunication. The college’s strength is drawn from both academic rigor and experiential learning. It offers bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees and certificates, both online and on campus. CJC students have the opportunity to gain practical experience in the Innovation News Center, which generates content across multiple platforms, and The Agency, an integrated strategic communication and consumer research agency focused on marketing to young adults. The College includes seven broadcast and digital media properties, the Joseph L. Brechner Center for Freedom of Information and the nation’s only STEM Translational Communication Center and Center for Public Interest Communications.


Molly de Aguiar, Managing Director
News Integrity Initiative
Phone: 646–758–7790

Matt Sheehan, director of stories and emerging platforms
University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications
Phone: 352–354–3629

Science of Story Building

What Science and Research Tells Us About Why Stories Work

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