Local journalists, do people trust the wire content you publish?

Joy Mayer
Joy Mayer
Aug 24 · 9 min read

As local news outlets, what is our role in keeping our communities informed about national events? And how do attitudes toward national coverage affect people’s relationships with *our* journalism?

We’ve gotten the message from our partner journalists over the last few years that audiences are confused about who’s responsible for content from wire services or other partners. They tell us that people expect them to independently fact-check wire stories, that their comments sections are full of complaints about national coverage and that they have decreasing staff resources to pay attention to those stories.

So, let’s talk about it.

Update: Jump to the bottom of this article to watch a replay of an event we hosted about wire and national coverage and read about what we learned and the questions we’re tackling next.

As we kick off our new initiative, A Road to Pluralism, along with our Pluralism Network, we’re going to dig into a series of challenging questions that we think are crucial for local journalists to address. We’ll talk about five topics that we believe are contributing to the perception that local news is part of the problem in a polarized society, rather than a trusted resource across the political spectrum.

(In this video of a launch event last week, hear us talk about the five themes and what we learned in recent research with the Center for Media Engagement.)

First up: the role of national coverage provided by wire services. It’s this week’s theme, and we invite you to join us on Thursday for an informal conversation about it. Register here. Find more details about this and other upcoming events at the bottom of the post.

It’s worth noting that this topic does not just apply to political news. People perceive bias and polarization in coverage of things like health, pop culture, schools and sports.

First, some research

We know that trust is higher in local news outlets than in national news outlets. We also know that local news plays a vital role in civic life.

One recent research experiment also showed that a local newspaper could slow polarization by focusing on local writers on opinion pages.

“When a local newspaper in California dropped national politics from its opinion page, the resulting space filled with local writers and issues. We use a pre-registered analysis plan to show that after this quasi-experiment, politically engaged people did not feel as far apart from members of the opposing party, compared to those in a similar community whose newspaper did not change. While it may not cure all of the imbalances and inequities in opinion journalism, an opinion page that ignores national politics could help local newspapers push back against political polarization.”

And Joshua Darr, one of the researchers, shared this advice with the American Press Institute:

“The comparative advantage of local news outlets is their focus on the community. People are drawn to national politics and may even choose to read about it over local news if given the choice. But newspapers should try to resist the temptation to cater too much to this preference. The benefits, if any, are likely short term, and possibly at the cost of longer-term problems that hasten the demise of local news.”

That research sure has us wanting to know more. Like … would the same be true in other newsrooms? And would it be true for news coverage, not just opinion?

What we’ve heard from local journalists

Here’s a collection of observations from our newsroom partners and other journalists who’ve gotten in touch with us on the topic of national news and wire services.

  • Readers don’t understand why we don’t cover national stories ourselves. They don’t understand our processes and limited resources.

Questions we’re ready to see local newsrooms ask

With our new Pluralism Network, we’re committed to working with newsrooms to find solutions to these complex problems. On the topic of including national news in local news products, here are some questions we’re ready to ask.

What strategies are effective in helping audiences understand our wire choices?

How can we explain:

  • What sources we subscribe to for wire news

What strategies are effective in changing perceptions of the local news product?

Let’s re-examine:

  • How we describe our local values and priorities

What do newsrooms wish were different about the wire coverage available to them?

  • Are we collecting feedback about wire coverage?

What would you add to the list? What ideas do you have for how to address these issues?

We invite you to join us on Thursday, Aug. 26, for an informal conversation about it. Register here. During this event you can bring your own challenges and ideas, and hear from three of our partner journalists:

  • Alison Gerber, editor and director of content at the Chattanooga Times Free Press

Are you ready to dive into any of these questions? We’d love to pair you with other newsrooms that have the same challenges and see if together, we can identify solutions. Apply for the Pluralism Network here.

Coming soon

Over the next several weeks, we’ll be exploring several themes on our Road to Pluralism. We’ll write about one each week and also host a conversation to hear from partner journalists and brainstorm steps we can take to address them. Register for the event series here, and come to whichever of them are relevant to your work.

The conversations will take place on the following days and focus on the following themes:

  • Aug. 26: The value and challenges of local and national news

Ideas for us? Questions? Get in touch anytime at info@TrustingNews.org.

Update: Highlights from our conversation on wire and national coverage

Here are a few things we’re eager to dive into based on what we heard. If they’re interesting to you, please let us know.

In terms of how national content is written and produced:

  • How are/should/can local newsrooms edit wire copy? Add labels or explainers? Add context to back up claims or statements made in stories that might not be immediately accepted? Take out adjectives or adverbs, or make other language more straightforward? Remove or add information based on local sensitivities and contexts?

In terms of how local news orgs present wire content:

  • How can news orgs make it more clear which content they produce and which they don’t?

We welcome your ideas and additions to the list! And please do apply to join us in the Pluralism Network if you’re able to help us learn about even just one specific question or issues.

Trusting News 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 co-hosted by the Reynolds Journalism Institute and the American Press Institute. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook. Subscribe to our Trust Tips newsletter. Read more about our work at TrustingNews.org.

Trusting News

Advice from the Trusting News project team: Follow along…

Trusting News

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

Joy Mayer

Written by

Joy Mayer

Director of Trusting News. It’s up to journalists to demonstrate credibility and *earn* trust. Subscribe here: http://trustingnews.org/newsletter/

Trusting News

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