Research IDs ways to improve trust in media

News Photo by Julie Riddle News reporter Steve Schulwitz, standing, confers with page designer Alyssa Ochss in The Alpena News newsroom last week.

ALPENA — To win back the trust of conservatives who have largely lost faith in them, mainstream media outlets have to avoid lumping sources into broad political groups, build more relationships with conservatives, and use more conservative voices in their stories, according to the findings of a national research project in which The News participated.

Numerous surveys have shown large swaths of the public no longer trust mainstream media outlets to report fairly or accurately, with conservatives far more likely than liberals to label such outlets as biased.

The research findings released today by the Center for Media Engagement at the University of Texas verify those sentiments. The university partnered with the group Trusting News and 27 newsrooms around the country, including The News, to survey 3,367 people across 20 states and conduct follow-up interviews with 91 of them.

Respondents on average strongly agreed that national mainstream news outlets are biased. Respondents trusted local news stories more, but criticized local media outlets for publishing national news from sources they don’t trust, such as Associated Press stories published by The News.

“I love the way the local news is reported; I don’t know how I could live without the local stories,” said one reader interviewed by The News as part of the project.

However, “I don’t see any balance at all with AP,” that reader said. “It’s just Trump bad, bad, bad, Biden good, good, good.”

Respondents also disliked how the media, in their view, used broad terms that seem to lump everyone with right-leaning views into one broad category.

“I guess, just because I’m a conservative white guy, it seems like the news seems to automatically kind of lump me in as, you know, white privilege and racist, you know, which I’m not,” one reader interviewed by The News said.

The research aimed to identify ways media outlets could reverse those sentiments, and listed six recommendations for newsrooms to follow:

∫ Build relationships with and listen to those with conservative or right-leaning viewpoints in the community

∫ Include a variety of voices from people with right-leaning views in news coverage, but avoid using catch-all terms such as “conservative” to describe groups of people with a wide range of views.

∫ Consider a diversity of beliefs when hiring for the newsroom.

∫ Focus on story facts, not interpretation.

∫ Correct mistakes promptly.

∫ Don’t criticize only one side of an issue.

“You look at the left, ‘unarmed man shot by police officer,’ you know?” one interview subject told the Chattanooga Times Free Press for the project. “You look at the right, and it’s, ‘hero officer stops … a thief.’ So, like, you demonize on one side and you hero on the other side, and it’s neither one of those … Like, it’s the facts, but they’re sprinkled with enough opinion that it creates, it creates problems.”

The News already follows many of the recommendations outlined by the report, but newsroom leadership vowed to review the report’s findings and continue to seek ways to earn the trust of all readers, regardless of political opinions.

“It’s often said that a newspaper is supposed to be a mirror of the community, and that’s what The Alpena News aims to do every single day,” News Assistant Managing Editor James Andersen said. “In our efforts to report the news fairly and accurately, there’s a lot to learn from this report, and it will help us as we strive to earn and maintain the trust of all readers.”

Read the full report from the Center for Media Engagement below.


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