These key questions will lead to trust

By · Wednesday, May 29th, 2019

not teaching,
still THINKING …

Ask yourself this: As a news consumer, how can I trust information? As a journalist, how can I ensure news consumers trust what I provide?

The answer: credit.

Credit gives journalists and their work credibility. And three elements in a story — attribution, sources and substantiation — give credit in distinct ways.

Here are some key questions you can ask yourself about these three elements to ensure they are present in stories you write or edit or consume — and that they appear in the appropriate places.

Questions about attribution

Who is telling the news? Is it clear either in the lead paragraph or within the first few paragraphs?

Is there too little attribution? Does attribution appear in one paragraph but not in the next few paragraphs that follow? Paragraph by paragraph, is it clear where information is coming from and who said it?

Is there too much attribution? Is information attributed to the same person in each sentence of the same paragraph? Can that be streamlined by attributing the information once in the paragraph and making clear that the attribution applies to the entire paragraph?

Is attribution in the proper place? With a change in speaker after a quote, is there attribution at the start of the next sentence so a new speaker is properly introduced?

Questions about sources

Are the right sources in the story? Are they commenting on the right things?

Are the sources believable? Are they close enough to the story that they know what they’re talking about? Are they so close that they seem biased?

Are there enough sources? Are there various points of view? Is anyone missing?

Are sources fully and clearly identified? Are experts’ qualifications clear? Are there any anonymous sources in the story — and have the proper editors approved their use? Are the anonymous sources necessary? What other sources could take their place?

Questions about substantiation

Is any information in doubt? If so, why? What will remove that doubt?

Have assertions been verified? Has material from sources been supported with independent information? Or, has it been included unchallenged?

Is the content strong? Paragraph by paragraph, does the story stand up to scrutiny?

What’s missing? Should anything else be included that would make the story complete?

When you ask these questions again and again, story after story, you develop a natural and helpful habit — whether you are producing or consuming.

Your responsibility as a journalist is to end up with a strong story that meets not only your expectations but also those of news consumers.

Your mission as a news consumer is to ask these questions when journalists don’t.

This encore post is a modified version of a post originally published in July 2015 about an issue that is still important and relevant today.

(These two profs are no longer teaching at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School, but we are still thinking.)

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