Gather a group of people passionate about trust in local media in a room and what do you get? A lot of talk of adapting the craft of journalism, changing the way we engage with communities and just how we tell that story.

At LMA Fest in Chicago in early August, three industry leaders led a lively discussion around trust in local news:

  • Catherine Badalamente, CEO of Graham Media Group and chair of the LMA board of directors.
  • Erica Smith, managing editor for digital, the Times Union (Hearst) in Albany, New York, and chair of the LMF board of directors.
  • Shana Black, program manager for inclusive journalism, The Associated Press and founder, Black Girl Media.

The moderators framed the session as a discussion, with Badalamente kicking off the conversation by explaining why they were hosting this session at LMA Fest.

“When we’re talking about all the work that needs to be done, I am still stuck on the fact that we talk about the problems we have in our communities with misinformation, and then how we can combat that,” she said. “And, believe me, we look in the mirror and we know we have failures. And we know the things we’ve done in the past to exacerbate the problem. But we also know that there is a message that needs to be out there.”

Badalamente went on to illustrate the local media opportunity to have a different voice in the information game, separate ourselves from national media and from less trusted sources, and to use the voices we have in our communities to amplify facts — and to own when we make mistakes.

“Because at the end of the day, if we’re not working together, as we all know, democracy is at stake. I can’t take that,” Black said.

With that, a lively discussion ensued, with ideas including:

  • Creating a checkbox process in newsrooms, to make sure every single journalist is adhering to the trust check sheet, every single time.
  • Tapping into local conversations around national topics, and explaining what’s happening on a broader topic in your local community.
  • Setting up opportunities just to listen to community members, and having conversations with those who want to share with us.
  • Partnering with fact-checking organizations, such as PolitiFact or Newsguard.
  • Correcting our mistakes, and being honest about our corrections.
  • When interviewing political candidates, asking them not just about their campaign platforms, but asking where they agree with their opposing candidates.
  • Partnering with extension services and libraries, which are trusted sources of information in communities, as an authentic way to get the information to the community.
  • Partnering with local universities and high schools, which may also help with the pipeline for young journalists.

“You know what I love about the last 40 minutes of conversation?” asked Jay Small, chief operating officer, Local Media Association. “This room has not framed trust in news as a marketing problem. I love that because we can spend half a billion dollars and still not convince half of our potential constituencies to trust us. This is a far more nuanced problem and all the things that were discussed over the last 40 minutes get at how nuanced the problem is.”