local media insider

How does your media rate against these eight trust indicators?


Most credible newsrooms operate under a high internal code of ethics, but not always one the public understands. 

So when the  Trust Project set out to codify what legitimate news actually is, they wanted to get the public involved in the discussion. 

“We came out of the world of journalism. So we had been talking about this for 15 years, " says Sally Lehrman, founder of the Project. 

“We decided that we should stop talking to ourselves and start talking to the public .. about what they value in the news. When they trust it what causes them not to trust it. “ 

Using this public feedback. the Trust Project created eight "trust indicators" which take into account not just what your newsroom standards are, but also how you will be perceived by your audience.

See how many of these trust indicators your newsroom deploys: 

1. Best practices

  • Discloses ownership
  • Posts journalistic standards and ethics
  • Discloses  what happens to a journalist who has a conflict of interest 
  • 2. Journalistic expertise
  • Uses bylines
  • Giving  biographical information on journalists including contact information, background, and areas of expertise
  • 3. Type of work
  • Labels news, opinion, explainers, analysis, and sponsored content 

4. Citations and reference

  • Discloses sources of information
  •  Give access to original materials for  longer investigative stories

5. Methods

  • Statements of value to show what stories are a priority
  • - For investigative stories, the inclusion of why you pursued the topic 

Disclosure of how you investigated the topic

6. Locally sourced

  • Journalists know the community and reporting is done on the scene
  • - There is evidence of deep knowledge of local situation and community 

7. Diverse voices

  • Newsroom shows efforts of commitment to diverse perspectives across social and demographic differences
  • -Communities are not “missing” or included only in a cliched way

8. Actionable feedback 

  • What does the newsroom do to engage the community in identifying issues, help hold leaders accountable, and ensure accuracy
  • Can feedback provoke, alter or expand a story?  

If your newsroom is missing a few of these, it's fairly easy to turn this list into an action plan.  Here's a simple one: 

* Create  color-coded  labels, or just overlines, for  hew analysis, branded content, and opinion seem to be easiest for readers to identify

* Add links to the resumes of journalists

* Go heavier on local sourcing and references  for extra information

* In the "about us" area of the website add some extra links including your conflict of interest policy,   sourcing standards, values that guide story selection, ways for the community to give feedback, other journalistic standards, and an action-oriented diversity strategy.

* Show extra information on how the story was gathered for longer investigative pieces.  In other words, if reporters interviewed 30 local people for a story, share that information. It builds trust! 

Sally Lehrman, founder of the Trust Project has written  about her vision in an article published by  the Atlantic, that gives a better idea of how the audience feels about having these indicators: 

“Imagine you encountered a piece of text or video in your social media newsfeed or while searching for news on your phone or computer. It would be marked clearly as news, opinion, or sponsored content designed to sell you something. If you clicked on the byline, you’d see the author’s background and other published work. Did that person have local expertise? Experience and knowledge covering the topic? 

“Another click would take you to information about the news site itself. What commitments has it made to ethics, diversity, correcting mistakes? Who owns or funds the site, who is the leadership, when was it created?”

Instead,  adding these simple disclosures  allow the audience to have more control - and more trust. 

“We are not going to tell you what to trust. What we are going to do -  in the grand tradition of journalism  - is provide you the information and let you decide” Lehrman said. 

“You may care about ethics and not about ownership,” Lehrman. “It’s partly about education, but it's also about empowerment. That is the bigger word. We invite {the public} to hold us accountable.”