Adam Carros and Eric Page during KCRG’s Facebook live Q&A.

Earning trust by inviting questions … and answering them

As newsrooms have joined the Trusting News work, we’ve asked them to think about how they might introduce the work to their audiences and how those audiences might be invited to weigh in.

News consumers aren’t usually shy about telling us how we could do better, but asking for feedback directly (rather than just waiting to see what comments people leave on stories, for example) helps get a constructive conversation going.

Here are two interactive ways newsrooms have taken us up on that challenge. (As with most of what Trusting News newsrooms are doing, we hope you’ll borrow/steal/try these ideas yourselves.)

Facebook Live

Adam Carros at KCRG in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, kicked off his newsroom’s Trusting News work this week by explaining the project to his viewers and soliciting their questions.

Carros and two of his colleagues spent 34 minutes in a Facebook Live video discussing what they’ll be testing (strategies are outlined here) while watching for responses, complaints and curiosities from users.

The conversation, which was managed with a deft mix of authority, transparency and personality, touched on:

  • ethics (no, we don’t purposefully suppress stories)
  • process (here’s how we check facts)
  • news judgment and perceived agendas (here’s how we decide what to cover)
  • commitment to the local community (we’re raising kids here too)
  • their relationship with national news and with their parent company
  • balance and fairness (no, those aren’t the same thing, and equal time isn’t always what’s fair)
  • how investigations work (they take time and often unfold “like layers of an onion”)
  • why they need viewer’s help to keep a pulse on what needs to be covered

KCRG also, like most of our other partner newsrooms, created a landing page for their Trusting News work. The page highlights their commitment to earning trust and invites feedback on how they are serving their community. Their Cedar Rapids news neighbor, the Gazette also created one. (This document outlines what we hope these pages accomplish, and it links to several more examples.)

Carros said his staff is getting behind the Trusting News experiments, and he hopes to try another Facebook Live video chat with an individual reporter and a specific story. He wrote in our project Slack workspace that he spent virtually no time planning the Q&A. He had a rough outline going in but let the comments drive the discussion. He does recommend having more than one person participate, as it makes it easier to fill time if there aren’t questions.

Facebook-style AMA’s

Another way newsrooms are engaging their audiences is by hosting text-based chats on Facebook that look a lot like Reddit AMA’s. Here editors have set the stage for a conversation by answering questions and responding to comments from users.

Mike Canan and his colleagues at WCPO in Cincinnati showed a really nice touch in not getting too defensive while still validating comments and questions.

Below are some examples of comment interactions in which Canan met the users where they were and looked for a way to make the exchange productive.

Don’t ignore the haters. Remember — when you respond to them, you’re also responding to everyone else who’s reading.
News consumers *really* don’t understand as much as we think they do about local news outlets and their relationships to national companies or affiliations. Look for chances to remind people what your local newsroom is focused on — and what you can control.
This comment interaction led to an email exchange in which a viewer offered up several potential sources who are experts on firearms.

A similar post came from The Day, in New London, Connecticut. Carlos Virgen, Peter Huoppi and their colleagues used the launch of the project as a way to invite and answer users’ questions.

The staff looked for chances not only to thank people for their suggestions but also to offer specific links, explanations and ways to follow-up with specific staff members.

This is the beginning of a thread that went on to discuss in detail who covers the topics mentioned and how those journalists make coverage decisions.

Journalists, if you’re interested in knowing what your community thinks of the job you’re doing, please try these strategies on your own. And if you do try them, let us know how it goes.

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.

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