When it comes to the news media industry, the idea of introducing a novel standard for news trust on a global scale has certainly been tantalizing. Following the initiative of Sally Lehrman, relevant ventures like The Trust Project have laid groundwork to the development of trust indicators which merit some public attention. With over 200 news sites worldwide, the Trust Project transcends the simple concept of a label in online news stories. These standards continue to evolve in practice under the promise to build more transparent and accurate journalism.
Problem analysis: The issue of declining news trust
Despite variations per country, it would be appropriate to claim that public trust in the news media was experiencing a decline no less than 5 years ago. Polls have provided hints of how people’s perceptions of news websites and platforms have taken an adverse turn – in 2019, 50% of respondents revealed to have low or no trust at all for these media globally. The internet has certainly provided the opportunity for a more democratized media environment, especially with respect to active participation and access to news information for citizens around the globe. By contrast, as some audiences become more knowledgeable – or rather skeptical, – news integrity is now a value that is perceived at stake among those who consume them, where the prevalence of fake news and doubts about the intentions of media sources have also been a matter of concern for those operating in the industry.
Towards 8 indicators to restore news trust
With the rise of online news, there has been a breakdown in trust that has not left news media corporations unharmed. Despite detrimental changes in the perception of available news, an interesting silver lining is how the public has reassessed their expectations as to what people seek to find in any news provider. The 2021 Digital News Report by Reuters Institute provides a clear insight into the matter, based on the data gathered from countries across six continents: a majority now prefers news reflecting several perspectives that leave the freedom to decide what to think, as well as news outlets which remain neutral in their news coverage.
The increase in news mistrust has led to the development of certain indicators, which are grounded in the merge between public preferences and journalistic values. The Trust Project is a leading organization which has spread a discourse promoting this vision. Based on several rounds of one-to-one interviews with US and European citizens, an integrated commision of world news editors discovered what makes people trust the news – and what makes them not to. The outcome is a set of 8 different indicators which are now used by news media corporations: (1) journalistic expertise, (2) best practices, (3) type of work, (4) citations and references, (5) methods, (6) locally sourced, (7) diverse voices, and (8) actionable feedback.
The Trust Project: What people look for in trusted media (and where to find it)
As the news industry has been forced to rethink the way it approaches online audiences, the Trust Project presented itself as an organization which seeks to “affirm and amplify journalism’s commitment to transparency, accuracy, inclusion, and fairness so that the public can make informed news choices”. Now a consortium of leading news organizations, the Trust Project’s approach is clear-cut: structuring people’s voiced concerns into trust indicators which are further applied by the news publisher committed to the project. Ultimately, the Trust Project serves as a means to ensure the integrity of news delivered to online audiences. As a result, news media organizations can capitalize on this by revisiting their values, while news consumers can make better and informed decisions.
As Roberto Bernabò, Deputy Director of Il Sole 24 Ore claims, the Trust Project does not only attempt to improve its relationship with readers. News media organizations have already experienced firsthand some aggregated value of working with this approach. Writers from different news outlets, like Adam Smith of The Economist, expressed some advantages of these efforts: “we believe that being open about how we work will help us maintain the high levels of trust our readers have in Economist content”. In the same spirit of The Economist – which has made information related to their ownership and corporate governance transparent, – other partner news organizations like The Washington Post, EL PAIS, and CBC News, now make pertinent information to assess their trustworthiness available on their websites for new audiences.
Taking a step further, the Trust Project has increased their scope by collaborating with search engines and social media platforms that are increasingly involved in the online news supply chain as news distributors, including Facebook, Google and Bing. User Engagement and Commercial Coordinator from SciDev.Net, Yasser Teilab, also explains how applying these standards has helped the organization to hone their content more conveniently, revisit their fact-checking policies as well as respond more interactively to questions from readers about the donors who write stories on the platform.
Remarkably, the Trust Project is a call-to-action that goes beyond a mere label in news content signalling trustworthiness with a Trust Mark. In principle, it indicates that the coverage followed a set of guidelines composed of the most prominent features that news audiences value from the news production process – be it the news reporters who gather news or the practices they use to interpret them. On the official website, the organization claims to follow a multi-step approval process: “We check compliance on all approved news sites before they go live with the Trust Indicators and recheck them on an ad hoc basis”.
Nevertheless, there is always the question of how meticulously the standards are followed, especially after remaining associated with partners like Facebook, which have been involved in scandals due to internal practices, and now have jeopardized their credibility among the public. Promoting diversity as the Trust Project intends is also key in their vision statement, albeit we must remember that the trust indicators reflect the Western vision of news and journalistic values. Not only do the partner news publishers come from 13 Western countries, but also interviewees take up residence in this geographical zone, meaning that indicators cannot be universalized for different news markets.
In a democratic society, the media is inherently responsible for building relationships with their readership through any means. As the founder of the Trust Project, Sally Lehrman, writes in her essay What People Really Want From News Organizations for The Atlantic: “We’re asking people to tell us what they want and need from the news”. What is certain is that pursuing the principles of accuracy and transparency is a dire need that needs to be preserved in order to consolidate news trust. The World Editors Forum beckons this: “In a world of hyper-information, credibility, independence, accuracy, professional ethics, transparency and pluralism are the values that will confirm a relationship of trust with the public”. Whether it is the Trust Project or any other initiative pursuing the citizen-centered approach, attempts to increase transparency in journalism are more than necessary, especially by promoting media and information literacy.
Edited by: Gaukhar Orkashbayeva