Building trust in times of COVID-19

During WAN-IFRA’s World Media Leaders eSummit, news organisations participating in The Trust Project shared what they are doing to build trust with their audiences.

by Simone Flueckiger | July 9, 2020

For more takeaways and analysis from the World Media Leaders eSummit, download our easy-to-digest slide deck report (free for WAN-IFRA Members and available for purchase for non-members).

Led by award-winning journalist Sally Lehrman, The Trust Project is a consortium of news companies pushing for greater transparency and accountability in the news industry.

The Trust Project has worked with top news leaders around the world to create Trust Indicators – a set of standardised disclosures about a news outlet’s ethics, standards and journalists – that are displayed on an organisation’s website to help guide the public, and make it easier to identify trustworthy news.

The Trust Indicators include: “Best Practices”, “Author/Reporter Expertise”, “Type of Work”, “Citations and References”, “Methods”, “Locally Sourced?”, “Diverse Voices”, and “Actionable Feedback”.

“We do have evidence from very early research that the Trust Indicators do, in fact, enhance trust in the site and in the journalists,” said Lehrman, The Trust Project’s founder and CEO, during WAN-IFRA’s recent World Media Leaders eSummit.

“The Mirror did a study pre/post implementing the Trust Indicators and got an eight percent increase overall in trust in the site, more trust in the journalists, and more trust in the journalists being honest about their sources.”

Joining her in the discussion were Renata Rizzi, co-founder and director of business and strategic development at Brazilian news startup Nexo Jornal; Roberto Bernabò, deputy director and digital editor-in-chief of Italy’s Il Sole 24 Ore; and Sky News’ digital output editor, Ronan Hughes.

The effects of transparency

From being open about ownership to clearly differentiating editorial from sponsored or branded content, panellists agreed that transparency is key in fostering trust with their audiences.

“Transparency about ownership, financing and the business model is extremely important,” said Nexo Jornal’s Rizzi.

“Readers endorse as publicly and they even defend our business model. It really affects the propensity to subscribe, and the willingness to pay and to be retained. That, together with the continuous relationship, helps us not only build trust but translate that into subscribers and results.”

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Launched in 2015, the digital-only outlet’s business model is based purely on subscriptions, focusing on producing content that is rich with data and visualisations, while also involving the audience.

“We receive a lot of suggestions and questions, and that creates a community sense and a relationship of trust from one side to the other,” Rizzi said.

At Il Sole 24 Ore, transparency on the business side meant implementing strict rules surrounding sponsored and branded content, according to Bernabò.

“We not only have labels but we also change the way this type of content is presented, it’s clearly defined and indicated to readers. It’s really important that it is clear what is journalism and what isn’t. We’re paying a lot of attention to this,” he said.

“Having the trust of readers in this extraordinary period is hugely important. We have had an incredible increase of distribution of the paper and of online subscriptions. When your newsroom is focused on news and the people trust you, you can grow in a way that is unexpected, even with print.”

Sky News has also seen significant audience growth during the coronavirus pandemic, Hughes said, making it all the more important to maintain trust with viewers.

“We have had to be very mindful because if what we are producing isn’t trustworthy, that would completely undermine everything that we’re doing. We have had a very clear three-pronged policy: We want to make sure our staff are safe, make brilliant content, and make sure we’re building trust with our audiences because that will be the longevity out of the back of this. We need to try and retain the huge audiences that we’ve been seeing.”

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