In news we trust

HOW CAN NEWS organisations win back the trust of readers in this era of the "fake news cycle"? April's London Freelance Branch meeting heard from one initiative that is attempting to do just that. Our speakers were Ann Gripper, executive editor (digital) at Mirror Online and Jack Lahart, assistant community editor at The Economist.

Ann Gripper

Mirror Online's Ann Gripper speaking (right), with Jack Lahart to her left

The Trust Project was developed under the leadership of Sally Lehrman at Santa Clara University's Markkula Centre for Applied Ethics. International partners include the Washington Post and other big titles in the US. Italian titles Repubblica and La Stampa have just joined - see La Stampa's message to LFB.

The Trust Project proclaims that it "aims to improve opinion of media". How can it do that? Says Ann of the readers, "I can't make them trust us, I can only give them information... they can make their own judgements." News organisations that sign up to the Trust Project (by invitation only) can choose to have a capital "T" logo on their webpages that links to "Trust Indicators".

Trust Indicators are about transparency: "being honest with our readers". There is information on the ethics of the newspaper, its ownership, its journalists and their backgrounds. The Trust Project has transformed Mirror Online's "About us" page, now linked via a Trust Project logo. This now reveals that the Mirror campaigned for more lifeboats after the Titanic sank and that it's "backed the Labour Party at every election since 1945". It now has a list of editors and explains it's a plc and part of a network of local titles. Other Trust Indicators are "what type of work" an article is. Category headings now appear clearly alongside articles - labelled as opinion, analysis, background, satire or reviews.

Jack Lehart (left, speaking) as Ann Gripper (left, with laptop)

The Economist's Jack Lehart (left, speaking) as Ann Gripper (left, with laptop) listens

Bylines now link to brief biographies - for staffers only for now, but Ann says the Mirror would be happy to provide a page "that presented your credentials" for those who freelance regularly for them, particularly from abroad.

Mirror Online implement all these Trust Indicators "for the readers" but expects ultimately to benefit from more traffic coming to Trust Project partners' websites as there's more trust in their content. The plan is that eventually Google, Facebook and Twitter will - in Jack's words - "reward" trusted news organisations for their trustworthy content. Identifiable metadata would drive "trustworthy" news providers up the search rankings.

Jack's role at the Economist is to "manage around distribution by social media, email newsletters as well." He's seen a big increase in readers signing up to these newsletters. Implementing the Trust Indicators at the Economist meant "flagging to users that we are a trustworthy news organisation." They cover "our ethics - who owns us, how we go about producing our content... How many men and women are employed" and the gender pay gap.

Readers are now realising that "fake news is happening" according to Jack, and are "reacting in a positive way by going to news organisations like ours... that have these Trust Indicators." He added that "tech giants are waking up to the problems that fake news can inflict in their platforms". Jack hopes that through Trust Indicators "these tech giants will be able to identify these publishers as trustworthy news sources."

  • There's a longer report here