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Jan. 9, 2019, 8 a.m.

Showing your work, reflecting your audience, and using the right tools: Some 2019 predictions about trust and transparency

“Readers are paying attention — that’s what you want, isn’t it? — and they now have the tools to push back and to challenge our decisions.”

Our end-of-year “Predictions for Journalism” package has grown and grown and grown since its first iteration back in 2011. For the 2019 iteration, we published more than 200, and it’s possible I am literally the only person alive to have read all of them.

So over the next few days, we’ll be running what I’m calling Prediction Playlists — collections of predictions centered around a particular theme. Hopefully they’ll give you a point of entry into what can be an intimidating pile of #content. Today’s theme: trust and transparency.

In data journalism, publishing the data and code you used to create a project is a growing best practice. But what happens if no one wants to check your work?

Soo Oh, a data visualization reporter at the Wall Street Journal:

“There’s very little current demand for the majority of reproducible code from newsroom leadership or the general audience.”

If journalists want to succeed, they need to be more comfortable with the idea that more engaged readers will push back against their work more often. That’s the price of engagement.

Nicholas Jackson, editor-in-chief of Pacific Standard:

“Readers are paying attention — that’s what you want, isn’t it? — and they now have the tools to push back and to challenge our decisions.”

Reporters and editors need to be more thoughtful about their decisions, their internal processes, and how their own status impacts the work that they do.

Nikki Usher, associate professor at George Washington University and the University of Illinois:

“It’s not that journalists shouldn’t engage in fact-checking, nor is it that journalists should avoid presenting facts as verifiable and trustworthy claims about the world — it’s that they shouldn’t be so obnoxious about it.”

As we rely more on readers to pay the bills, being transparent about reflecting their experiences and interests will be key to building relationships.

Charo Henríquez, senior editor for digital transition strategy at The New York Times:

“We need to build and sustain trust in our audiences. And yes, ‘audiences’ not ‘audience,’ because digital news consumers are not monolithic, and neither should be the ways we look at them.”

Yes, we need to build trust with our audiences — but don’t forget most newsrooms have to do the same with their own employees, who have been put through the ringer by the industry’s decade-plus of disruption:

Alexandra Borchardt, director of leadership programs at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford:

“Unless candidates are fully dedicated to the cause of serving democracy, taking the financial and other risks in pursuing a journalism career is not that attractive any longer.”

Key to audience trust is better measuring journalism’s impact on their lives; too often the societal benefits of the work journalists do stays hidden.

Patrick Butler, vice president of the International Center for Journalists:

“Showing impact will become an essential way to retain and expand the audience for reliable, accurate information. I believe our future depends on it.”

Growing trust isn’t just an issue for journalists — it’s a two-way street. The idea of increasing our audiences’ media literacy is something it’s easy to be cynical about, but it’s also something that can work.

Mike Caulfield, head of the Digital Polarization Initiative at the American Democracy Project:

“In reality, many forms of both radicalization and infiltration would be more difficult with a media literate audience — particularly if those with the most influence had better skills and habits around assessing reputation and intent.”

Perhaps there’s a technological solution: Salem Solomon sees potential in using AI and better internal practices to prevent corrections before they’re necessary.

Salem Solomon, a digital journalist at the Voice of America’s Africa division:

“Reporters will use emerging technologies, new workflows, and input from their audiences to catch mistakes before they hit the web.”

Illustration of “The Seer” by Adamastor Studio used under a Creative Commons license.

Joshua Benton is the senior writer and former director of Nieman Lab. You can reach him via email ( or Twitter DM (@jbenton).
POSTED     Jan. 9, 2019, 8 a.m.
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