How local TV stations can build community trust

“I don’t trust any of them. The politicians on both sides of the aisle are all crooks and doing it for themselves.

I heard this in a recent conversation with a person who explained why he despises all politicians but really loves his incumbent governor and would vote for him again. Although it seemed contradictory to me, to say the least, it also made me think and think about the issue of trust when it comes to locally released information.

Our deeply divided nation no longer has a common framework of understanding when it comes to daily news. The myriad sources of information that we all rely on have fragmented and even distorted our perception of what is fact, what is indisputable and who we trust. The layering of opinions and commentary so prevalent on cable news and social media has further blurred the definition of “news” and created far too many experts and so-called experts for our own good.

And swimming in this ocean of opinion, local television newsrooms try to inform their communities without fear or favor. For the most part, local television news does a respectable job of reporting without injecting personal opinion. There are exceptions, of course, but, for the most part, the people who work in newsrooms across the country go out of their way to give us just the facts and dig in – when given the time and resources – to help uncover corruption, expose wrongdoing and provide coverage that informs, protects and even celebrates the communities they inhabit.

All recent studies on trust and the media continue to point to a reliance on local television news as the most reliable source of information for the majority of Americans, and while that’s great for our industry, the numbers are coming down slightly and showing a divide between how Republicans and Democrats view and trust their local news.

So what to do? Here are some suggestions:

Take a look at your newsroom: Do you truly represent the community you serve in terms of gender, race, geography, ethnicity and culture? Let’s face it, you could probably do better on this front. And that should apply equally in front of and behind the camera.

Are you actively creating a safe space for conflicting coverage opinions inside your newsroom? Does your team feel safe enough to voice their differing opinions? This goes to my first point above and requires a multi-tiered, diverse newsroom in order to implement. It could be that highlight that makes a difference in your coverage and resonates deeply with viewers.

Do your usual sources (doctors, lawyers, community leaders, etc.) also reflect the community you serve? Do you always go to the same people because it’s easier? If so, you are undoubtedly reducing your coverage without intention and the impact, over time, can be myopic.

Are you giving your reporters and producers the time and resources to truly investigate unsolvable issues in your community and bring to light issues that directly impact the people you serve? I always think of Flint, Michigan, and the lead contaminated water that went unreported for years and now I think of Jackson, Miss., and their own water crisis, years to come. to prepare.

Show your work. Transparency and presentation of your work aren’t just for algebra. This helps the audience understand exactly how you got the information. Who knows, you may actually teach someone in your community how to achieve these public records for themselves, which could improve the community while increasing trust in your own local outlet.

To finish, do you provide ongoing training for your reporters, producers and videographers so that they are properly and safely prepared and supported when they go out on the streets? Unfortunately, too many newsrooms have never implemented a regular program or only do so briefly after a tragedy only to abandon it a few months later. At Graham Media Group, we’ve launched several in-house programs designed by and for our newsroom employees and found a way to fund them without breaking the bank. Your greatest resource for designing such efforts is working for you right now, so ask them what they need.

All of this leads to one indisputable fact: trust is fundamental to seeing, hearing and believing what is broadcast on our newsletters and websites. Trust is what brings viewers and scrollers to our stations and sites day in and day out, and it’s what allows our businesses to thrive. If we allow this bond to fray or break, we will have lost everything.


Emily Barr is the former President and CEO of Graham Media Group. She retired earlier this year after holding management positions in broadcasting for more than 30 years.

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