There are many challenges facing the news business these days, but sometimes newsrooms ignore the simple things they could do to build a more trusting relationship with the public. Here’s a short list of improvements that media companies can make immediately to help restore trust and credibility.

  1. Fix your customer service, including having editors, producers, anchors, reporters, and subscription representatives answer calls directly and not send all calls to voice mail because they’re “too busy.” Saying you’re busy means you’re not interested in engaging with your customers. Other companies might get away with bad customer service, but media companies have too many other problems to ignore this fundamental issue.
  2. Be honest with your digital headlines and social media posts. Put locations of out-of-area stories in headlines (and on posts on Twitter, Facebook) to avoid tricking readers into thinking these click-bait stories happened in their hometowns. Readers know what you’re doing, and this strategy just makes them angry at you.
  3. Conduct monthly in-person forums at local high schools to reconnect with your communities (and find some interesting stories in the process). Outreach is more than what you do on Twitter and Facebook.
  4. Post your written ethics policy and newsroom standards on the home page of your site, and don’t make news consumers hunt for it. Finding this information with one click improves reader trust.
  5. Do you have a social media policy that maintains the objectivity of your journalists? Reporters who produce objective news content should not go on social media and give their opinion on their stories or sources. You can’t have it both ways.
  6. Stop calling it “sponsored content” on your digital sites and tell news consumers that it is actually paid “advertising.” Don’t blur the lines between news and advertising by using words that intentionally mislead your readers.
  7. Stop putting opinion content in news columns without labeling it clearly as opinion. Putting a columnist’s photo on the column isn’t good enough. Your editors may know the difference, but your readers don’t. Fixing this is one more way to build credibility with readers. On cable television, it should say “Opinion” every time an analyst gives his or her opinion (which is most of the time). It’s not cable news. It’s cable opinion, and the networks should say so.
  8. Make sure your opinion content includes a variety of political philosophies. Republicans, for example, distrust media outlets at very high rates, according to media surveys. This should be a simple fix if you’re committed to representing all points of views.
  9. Does your newsroom look like your community? How diverse were your last six hires? If you are not getting enough diverse candidates to apply, have you developed a program to promote diverse job applicants in your local high schools and colleges? Commit to a more inclusive newsroom and you’ll find ways to get there.
  10. Your critics often see you as arrogant and aloof. In Houston just before the 2018 election, a network TV crew blocked handicapped parking spaces at a polling site for a live news shot, and refused to move even when a disabled veteran needed to park. “We’re going live,” was their excuse, forcing the disabled vet to look for parking elsewhere. That attitude tells news consumers that you really don’t care. Most journalists don’t have this attitude, but those who do are the ones our critics remember.