“Explain your process” box improves perceptions of news organization

Lynn Walsh
Feb 26, 2019 · 3 min read

A new study from the Center for Media Engagement at the University of Texas at Austin found adding a box explaining your story process can improve a user's perceptions of a news organization.

The research was done on behalf of Trusting News and completed this month. The goal of the testing was to see whether adding explanations for how journalists do their jobs is a useful tool to help build trust between a news organization and its users.

We’ve seen through our work since 2016 that these elements do build trust. But we know newsrooms need evidence, and we’re happy to share this new data.

The findings suggest adding an “explain your process” box can increase trust and the Center is recommending that news organizations consider adding them to their stories. (Read more about the process for the testing and dive deeper into the results here.)

Example of what the “explain your process” box looked like.

Many Trusting News newsrooms have used an “explain your process” box in their web stories to share more about how they created a story. Some newsrooms would use the box to highlight information about why they chose to cover a particular story, how they approached finding sources or to provide insight into their information gathering and fact-checking process.

The Trusting News project wanted to test this approach to see if users noticed the box and if the information provided impacts how trustworthy they think the news organization is. By partnering with the Center for Media Engagement, we were able to get data on how individuals responded, a crucial part of the process as we continue our testing and continue to offer advice and coaching services to the journalism community.

To run the testing the Center for Media Engagement used content from two of our news partners: USA TODAY and the Tennessean. Research participants either viewed a news article with a box or without and then were asked a series of questions about the news organization.

According to the study, “people who viewed a news article with the box perceived the news organization as significantly more reliable, compared to people who saw the same story without the box.”

In addition, the research participants who viewed an article with the box rated the news organization significantly higher on 11 of the 12 attributes of trust. These attributes include being more transparent, informative, accurate, fair, credible, unbiased, and reputable.

“It is relatively easy to put this box together using information from the reporters’ news-gathering process and can improve items that relate to trust,” according to the report.

When deciding what to explain, consider answering questions like these:

  • Why you’re doing this story. You can discuss how this story fits with your mission as a news organization, where the story idea came from and why the information in the story is important for your community to know.
  • How you’re doing this story. Discuss how long you spent reporting on the story, the number of people you interviewed/talked to before publishing the story, any ethical decisions made along the way (we make a lot more than we think every day) and how you fact-checked information.
  • What else your user should know. Did you use public records for the story? If so, talk about how you did that. You can also talk about how you worked to be fair in your coverage.

The Trusting News project would love to help you explain your reporting process. We offer free coaching to journalists. We can help you figure out what this could look like in your newsroom. Sign up here.

Trusting News, 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 American Press Institute, Democracy Fund and the Knight Foundation.

Trusting News

Updates from the Trusting News project team: Follow along…

Lynn Walsh

Written by

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

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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