Teach your audience about the mission and credibility behind your coverage of democracy
Audiences don’t understand how journalists cover elections — and most of the time, journalists aren’t telling them about their goals, process and decision making. This lack of information leads news consumers to make assumptions about why certain races are covered and others are not, why, how and when politicians are covered, etc. People’s assumptions most likely will be negative and can lead to distrust in the news organization and media in general.
Newsrooms have a strategy for covering an election. Often, newsrooms hold meetings months in advance to plan out their coverage. Instead of keeping all of your planning and decision-making internal, share what you are doing publicly. Explain the focus of your stories, discuss what issues and races you are prioritizing and why, and talk about the goals of your overall coverage. Then be sure to share these explanations in day-to-day reporting about the election and candidates and races.
The Texas Tribune created a landing page answering questions about how it plans to cover the election and other basic voting questions people may have. The news team then created two FAQ embeds for every election story — one that is a "here are the most frequently asked questions around voting" and the other that is "here's what to expect from our elections coverage." They typically would place the FAQ embeds near the top of the stories.
Getting on the record is step one. Step two and perhaps even more important is making sure you link to the explanations about your approach, your goals and how you are working to be fair. If you do not link back to these explanations in daily coverage, it is less likely people will see the explanations and give you credit for the careful, ethical reporting you are aiming for.
Journalists should be teaching people about their credibility and integrity within daily news products. Everywhere they’re invited to learn about the subjects you cover, they can also be invited to learn about how and why the journalism is created. Creating embeds like the Texas Tribune did is one option. Newsrooms can also create images with this information and add them to stories or share the images on social media. Remember, more and more people rely on social media for information, meet them where they are and share these important explanations about your mission and goals where they will see them. These explanations can also be great additions to social posts, newsletters and on-air stories.
The Texas Tribune also deployed The Citizens Agenda model and answered questions from their audiences about elections.
- See how the Texas Tribune linked to explanations about its coverage in daily stories by clicking on the story links below:
- Bernie Sanders tours Texas hoping to amp up progressive turnout, including in key South Texas race
- Texas Secretary of State John Scott says our elections are secure, but he sometimes muddles that message
- Can Democrats in Tarrant County replicate the success they had in 2018 and 2020?
- College voters held back by Texas election law, lack of on-campus polling sites
- Dark-money group features Uvalde shooter footage in ad criticizing Abbott’s gun policies
Trusting News coaches newsrooms on transparency and engagement strategies to demonstrate credibility and earn trust. See more newsroom examples of how to be transparent about your brand, mission and story here.