What’s Happening:

In an era when trust in journalism is down and consumers are getting their news from multiple platforms, publishers are moving into the “show me” instead of “trust me” model of journalism, according to Tom Rosenstiel and Jane Elizabeth at the American Press Institute.

Why it Matters:

With news consumers reading news from multiple platforms and social media, they often don’t make their way from the platform or app to a media organization’s direct website. Because of this, reporters and media companies are being compelled to explain why the public should trust their work, rather than relying on the credibility of the organization as they once did.

This becomes more challenging in mediums such as Twitter or a newsletter. Laura Davis, assistant professor and digital news director at USC Annenberg Media Center, took a look at organic news fluency outside the confines of a traditional story, to reach readers where they are consuming news and inspiring trust through those platforms.

Digging Deeper:

Rosenstiel and Elizabeth propose that journalists make the markers of quality journalism easier for consumers to distinguish, rather than baking them into a story’s narrative or, in some cases, leaving them out altogether. At Annenberg, Davis decided to start this process with a weekly newsletter that the USC student newsroom puts out.

To adapt organic news fluency to a delivery method such as a newsletter, in which readers often don’t click to the publisher’s website, the Annenberg team used American Press Institute templates to answer trust-building questions such as:

  • Why did we choose this story?
  • Why do we find this source credible?
  • What don’t we know?
  • What might happen next and what could change?
  • How can you respond or get involved?
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Davis and her newsroom then created a version of the newsletter that explicitly addressed these questions, though they quickly realized that content and design needed to be balanced. They went through several mock-up versions to get the right mix of news fluency without it detracting from the story itself. After testing on a wide pool of people and moving through a few iterations, the Annenberg now sends the weekly newsletter with organic news fluency to build trust embedded.


The Bottom Line:

One of the major lessons they’ve learned throughout this “journalism lab” project is to try and anticipate the questions a reader might have, and answer those; as well as to empathize with the reader, and to make the concept of news fluency concrete.

Davis intends to create templates for more platforms besides newsletters, such as Instagram Stories.


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