Transparency is Great…If Readers Notice

We know that readers and journalists alike think newsrooms could be more transparent. Adding story features that help audiences understand the reporting process can be valuable in demonstrating transparency and building trust. In our latest study, we teamed up with McClatchy to test whether a card that shows how and why a story was written can help achieve this goal.

What Worked: A Recap

In previous research conducted with Trusting News, we tested a box that explained how and why a story was reported. We found that adding the box did increase trust. Using this work as inspiration, McClatchy designed their Behind the Story card. We then explored whether the placement of the card on news organizations’ websites affects readers’ recall of the card and trust in the news organization.

Testing the New Approach

When we showed the card to readers outside of the context of the article, most of them said the card would increase their trust in a news organization. In spite of the fact that the card appealed to most readers, most of them did not notice the card when it was placed in an article. Furthermore, the card’s presence in the article did not affect trust.

In testing the placement of the card, it was either placed in-line with the news article text, placed at the bottom of the news article, or not placed at all. As previously noted, most readers failed to notice the card. Non-subscribers did notice the card more often when it was in-line with the article, but it still didn’t affect trust.

What Newsrooms Can Do

While the cards weren’t effective in building trust when placed within an article in this particular experiment, it doesn’t mean the practice won’t work at all. Readers did say that the cards, in theory, would increase trust. And we know from our “Explain Your Process” experiment that providing story background can increase trust. The problem here was that readers didn’t notice the cards when they were embedded in the story.

The takeaway for newsrooms is to make sure readers notice your efforts. Try a version of the “Explain Your Process” box. Try a version of the Behind the Story cards. Just make sure that the design is highly visible and not likely to be skipped over. We know readers want more transparency. It’s worth testing these features if it can lead to higher levels of trust from your audience.

To see the full report, click here.