Trust is often based on how well we know or understand someone. It’s true in personal relationships, and it’s also true for news brands or individual journalists.
That’s why it’s important for journalists to share who they are with their community. When people don’t know who journalists are and what they do, they make assumptions and most of the time, those assumptions are negative.
Instead of having them assume, tell your community who you are, what has shaped you and what experience you have. Doing this makes you human and relatable. It also can make you credible, respected and trusted.
We know some journalists may feel more comfortable sharing than others, and that’s fine. The key is to help people get to know who’s behind the news. Luckily, there are a lot of ways journalists can share who they are publicly, including staff bios, social media, personal websites, community events, etc. Whatever format it takes, the good news is it doesn’t all have to include the same information or look exactly the same.
– Lynn Walsh, Trusting News Assistant Director
WHERE TO START
We have a Trust Kit to help: Our new training tool, Trust Kits, offers guidance and strategies for journalists trying to work to build trust. We just published a Trust Kit on how journalists can talk about who they are.
Ready to share who you are with your community? Here are some tips to get started:
- Write or update staff bios. Everyone in the newsroom should have an opportunity to share something about who they are. Whether it is a staff bio, a list of staff members or an annual staff photo, everyone in the newsroom (not just on-air talent or the reporters) should be offered an opportunity to participate in showing the public who contributes to your news process — and what their diverse sets of experiences are. Also, make sure they are easy to find once you publish them. Make sure to assign someone to shepherd the project, collect the bios and nudge colleagues to complete it.
- Make sure staff bios include the basics. Include information about the journalist’s role in the newsroom, a photo, previous work/education experience, contact information and any connection to the local community. Are they from the area? Have they previously worked in the area? (If you are reporting in a place where freedom of the press or freedom of speech is threatened we know this may not be possible. Your safety comes first and should be prioritized over including these details.)
- Share staff bios. Once these bios are created they can be added to individual stories, collected on one page (like an “About Us” page), etc. Social media can also be a great place for journalists to share more about themselves and show some personality. One way you can do this is by introducing your staff on platforms designed for interpersonal connection, like Instagram and TikTok. Not only is this helpful for building those connections, but it can also be a good opportunity to share information about how journalists do their job.
For years journalists have been told to leave who they are at home. From an ethical standpoint, this advice is rooted in the importance of avoiding conflicts of interest — or the appearance of one — which can be just as detrimental to being considered a trustworthy news source.
But at the end of the day, connection plays a big role in how much empathy and trust we extend to one another. To make connections and be seen as human beings, it’s OK to talk about who you are. If you’re ready, here are some tips to share a bit more about yourself:
- Go beyond the basics. Sharing some information about how you grew up, what you’ve experienced in your life or what you’re currently interested in or doing outside of work can be an effective way to add some dimension to people’s understanding of your work. It can also lend credibility to your reporting and transparency around what perspectives — and potential biases — people might think you bring to your reporting. Consider sharing some of the following: What you’re passionate about, funny facts about yourself, talents (or what you struggle with), hobbies, organizations you’re involved in or your family (past and present).
- Consider creating reporter mission statements. Rather than letting your audience make assumptions about your agenda, tell them what you’re trying to accomplish. A reporter mission statement can do that by showing users what an individual journalist’s goals are and what they are trying to accomplish. The statement also helps show how a reporter’s mission aligns with the community’s mission. Learn how to turn a staff bio into a reporter mission statement here.
- Be prepared for one-on-one conversations. While out in public, journalists should be prepared for people to ask questions about their work in the newsroom. Look at these interactions as an opportunity to help correct misconceptions and share the value of what journalists do. For more tips on how to earn trust one-on-one with people in your community when you meet them in person, including some examples of how you might respond to common criticisms of journalism, read this Medium post.
WHAT OTHERS ARE DOING
- KPRC created these fun, in-depth staff profiles for each of their anchors. Each bio shares their credentials, but also gives a look at the journalists’ personalities and roles in the community.
- Create a handout about your newsroom or about yourself as a reporter and leave it places or share it at events, like the Iowa Gazette did here.
- Our newsroom partners at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution led their newsroom through a staff bio update. You can see examples of what they created here.
- The Keene Sentinel newsroom had staff members use the newsroom’s branded Instagram account to document what their day-to-day job looked like, sharing everything from getting coffee and checking emails in the morning to going to court to gather documents and going behind the scenes of newsroom planning meetings. Read more about their work here.