We learned a long time ago that trust has to be earned, especially in the newspaper industry. The answer is simple how trust is earned in reporting news. By being accurate!
And by being consistent in reporting news happenings accurately.
Veteran reporters will tell you they also have to know their sources, who to trust, and those you don’t.
As a veteran newsbeat reporter will tell you, trust of sources also has to be earned. Trust happens the same way with the sources being accurate in a consistent way.
Our experience has been that government officials on the local level, for the most part, have been trusted sources, especially if they are experienced. In the smaller newspaper world, the public, the readers, often know if what is reported is accurate.
You can’t get by with inaccurate reporting. They are the watchdogs of your reporting. You know them, they know you. In the larger newspaper world, the public generally doesn’t know the reporter, or editor, and relationships usually are not possible.
Even when there is a trustful relationship between the reporter and the source, mistakes can be made, and must be corrected. Trust is enhanced when mistakes are admitted and corrected.
Seasoned reporters have experienced readers who do not believe what has been reported. That can’t be true, they say, since “I know that person and he wouldn’t do that.” They don’t know the source like the reporter does, and the story would not have been written if the source wasn’t trusted.
We remember when a local professional man was being sued and it was reported by the newspaper. A reader who knew the defendant said, “That can’t be true.” The source was the circuit court filing of the lawsuit petition which documented the allegations. The reader later found out it was true, plus much more.
We had a telephone call in which a woman complained about a photo that was published, and she said it was in poor taste because it showed a body bag with the victim in it after a crash. The photo didn’t show the body bag, or even anything that appeared to be a body bag. The woman became quite profane in her language and we followed the newspaper policy of hanging up if the caller becomes profane.
It happens that a reader becomes upset over a tragedy and is looking for someone to blame and the newspaper is targeted because of the story that was published, which was accurate. Newspapers can become the “whipping boy” in those cases.
A veteran reporter, and/or editor, should know that if facts given can’t be verified, or it’s not from a trusted source, the best policy is “don’t publish” until there is verification.
It happens that an official, or officer, asks a reporter to “sit on a story” and a good reason is given in the timing, this newspaper has cooperated, and held up the story for a brief period. This can happen when reporting about ongoing investigations. Those instances are “trust builders.”
We remember well a city councilman who often said at a council meeting that he “never reads the newspaper” and then would complain about a story, saying he was misquoted.
We also remember well public officials who we knew to be not trustworthy in their remarks and they presented a problem for the reporter. Do you publish what he said knowing it was not true or was misleading and it was said during an open meeting? It’s a judgment call. If what was said is common knowledge that it isn’t true, and if it is important to the story, then maybe it is OK to publish it. The best solution is to include in the story facts that let the reader know what was said is not true. We remember when a local battle was in progress about city manager government, and a city official openly in a meeting told some city employees that the very night a city manager from another town was speaking here, the man was being investigated in the town where he was manager. The facts were checked and the lie was exposed in a news story.
We could add countless other stories about gaining trust with readers, but we’ll end by saying the quest for trust-establishing never ends!