Just a couple of sentences can make a difference in how audiences perceive local TV packages, a new report from the Center for Media Engagement says.
The group, housed at the University of Texas at Austin, partnered with Trusting News and Scripps’ WCPO to test how including “trust elements” in broadcast packages would affect audience’s perceptions.
It builds on previous research that showed adding a “trust box” with information about why and how a story was reported to digital news pages “is a low-risk step news organizations can take toward building trust with their audience.” That study showed including an inset with process information “boosted perceptions on 11 of 12 items related to trust: reputable, informative, trusted, credible, has integrity, fair, transparent, reliable, accurate, unbiased, and tells the whole story.”
At the time, we suggested some possible ways to incorporate the trust-building measure into a broadcast format, including taking advantage of second screen opportunities, spending the extra screen time on select projects, using process reporting and building information about story process into scripts more explicitly.
Now, the Center for Media Engagement has tested incorporating “trust elements” elements into broadcast packages and found that though audiences generally can’t point out exactly why, they respond more positively to stories with a couple of key elements:
Start with “why?”
TV packages that included a quick introductory sentence about why and how the station covered the story got more positive feedback overall. It showed that coverage decisions are made with the needs of the audience in mind. Viewers said the information helped show the station cared about the community and the viewer. Study participants said they were more likely to watch and trust the station when the quick introductory explanation was included.
Finish with “what now?”
Another element the study tested was including information at the end of the package about how viewers could provide feedback or access additional resources related to the story (such as a domestic violence hotline following a story about a police officer’s domestic violence arrest). While some participants found the information unnecessary, overall most participants thought the follow up information made the story feel more personal.
The study also tested an introductory “exclusive” story label and an additional element explaining the station’s overall mission. The “exclusive” language did not improve viewer perceptions. Some viewers found the additional explanation of mission to be unnecessary or too self-promotional.
In other words, viewers are more interested in why they need to know about a story than that it is exclusive, and trust indicators should still be about the viewer, not the station.
For that reason, the Center for Media Engagement suggests based on the research findings that the “trust items” should be kept short and to the point.
It’s also worth noting that the focus groups’ participants were widely varied in age group, and politically skewed toward unaffiliated or Republican, two groups less likely overall to trust news outlets.
Taken together, both elements – a quick “why?” at the beginning of a package and a short “what now?” at the end – take only a only a few sentences but create measurable positive impacts on trust and likelihood to watch again.
Plus, as our Code of Ethics transparency tenet reminds us, it’s just good journalism.
Read more from Trusting News here and find the full report from the Center for Media Engagement here.