Lynn Walsh
Mar 15, 2018 · 4 min read

In a recent investigation into Washington D.C. police department practices, WUSA walks its viewers through each step of the reporting process.

A personal connection, a direct introduction to the story, an explanation of their reporting process and direct access to the reporter. These are all elements included in WUSA’s investigative story about stop and frisk practices by Washington D.C. police.

One of the strategies we’re testing with Trusting News is explaining the process of journalism and this story is a great example of how to do that.

Click below to watch the investigation.

Right off the top, the reporter Eric Flack makes it personal. He says, “I was born and raised in Washington, D.C.; grew up right on this street…” (0:40)

I do not live in D.C., but I instantly felt connected to Eric. Those words made me feel like he genuinely cared about the information he was going to tell me next. It felt authentic and real. (It’s actually a great example of another Trusting News project strategy, “show individual personality and credibility.” Read more about the newsrooms involved in the Trusting News project and what they’re testing here).

After Eric makes the story personal and connects with the viewer, he comes right out and tells the audience, the public, why the newsroom chose to cover this story.

“I want to know why 80 percent of the people who are stopped and frisked by D.C. police are black, even as the number of black people living in D.C. is way down,” he says. “The African American population in Washington D.C. now below 50 percent.” (0:53)

The investigative team had numbers and data but wanted to add context to them and have someone explain the trends they were seeing. Adding context and getting answers to questions is something we, as journalists, do almost every day. So, why don’t we tell our users we are doing it?

By being direct and telling their viewers why this story is being covered, it allows the viewer to instantly understand what the story is going to explain. It also provides a glimpse into the reporting process. A viewer is not going to watch this story and wonder why the station is airing this story. They already know because the reporter directly told them.

The story continues and Eric and his team walk the viewer through their entire reporting process. They discuss who they contacted to interview for this story. They walk people through the data they obtained and where it came from.

The WUSA team did something else that is not new, but sometimes gets overlooked. They walk the viewer through each step of how they tried to get in touch with the D.C. police chief. They show the emails and texts they sent requesting an interview, and in the end showed up in person, on camera, to talk to the chief.

“We struggled for months about how to best demonstrate to viewers that we were not out to embarrass the D.C. Police Department,” Eric said in an email.

They were trying to do the opposite, he said, and even pushed back the airdate of the investigation to give the department more time to respond to their interview request. Eric said his team had a long conversation about whether or not to use the “unscheduled interview” with the police chief (when they meet up with him at the parade) but after hearing that the police chief had experience and knew stop and frisk best practices, decided they would include it.

At the end of the story, Eric provides his cell phone number to the viewers, something that may not be for everyone, but certainly makes him very accessible to the public (another strategy the Trusting News project is testing).

“ As the police chief taught me, how available you make yourself on an issue speaks volumes to the people who are trying to reach you,” Eric wrote. “That’s why I broadcast my cell phone number at the end of my report.”

He said his manager asked him over and over again if he was sure he wanted to broadcast his number so publicly on TV.

“Absolutely,” he said he responded. “I want to talk to anyone who has information about Stop and Frisk in Washington D.C., and I want to make it easy for them to find me. This is too important to our city.”

Eric said the overall response to the story has been “more overwhelming” than he expected. He has received additional tips for this story and others — but more importantly, the story has been well received by the public.

The Trusting News project, staffed by Joy Mayer and Lynn Walsh, is designed to demystify the issue of trust in journalism. We research how people decide what news is credible, then turn that knowledge into actionable strategies for journalists. We’re funded by the Reynolds Journalism Institute, the Knight Foundation and Democracy Fund. Follow along here on Medium and at #TrustingNews on Twitter.

Trusting News

Updates from the Trusting News project team: Follow along as we demystify trust in news and empower journalists to demonstrate credibility and actively earn trust.

Lynn Walsh

Written by

Emmy award-winning journalist • TrustingNews.Org • @SPJ_Tweets • @PLNU Adjunct • FOIA fighter • Digital Explorer #Sunsets #1stAmendment

Trusting News

Updates from the Trusting News project team: Follow along as we demystify trust in news and empower journalists to demonstrate credibility and actively earn trust.

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