by Sally Lehrman, Trust Project, USA.
As both everyday people and politicians look ahead with hope and concern to major elections around the globe, media literacy educators are looking for tools to help students of all ages navigate the news.
Is it true? Is it an opinion that cherry-picked facts? Is it produced by a reputable news organization that applies journalistic principles and provides impartial information about issues and events? The Trust Project’s Trust Indicators®, now shown on hundreds of news sites around the world, are one tool designed to help anyone make their way confidently through the confusing onslaught of silliness, sales pitches, disinformation and honest journalism on their screens.
These Trust Indicators emerge from journalism itself. As a result, they take a user empowerment approach. Like any news report with integrity, they don’t tell you what to think or do, but provide a path to your own decision.
There are eight Trust Indicators in all, together helping a person analyze who and what is behind a given piece of news. Each indicator has multiple attributes, which in turn are meant to be weighted according to that individual’s biggest concerns. One person may be most interested in where a news outlet’s funding comes from – possibly revealing a political agenda. Another may value a commitment to correcting errors rapidly and clearly. Nearly everyone cares greatly about the clear separation of opinion from news.
We know this because the Trust Indicators were developed through user-centered design research to learn people’s needs and wants around news. Researchers spent time with people in Europe, the United States and Canada to understand what they valued in news and how they decided to trust it. In workshops with news executives, the Trust Project blended the findings with bedrock journalism values like accuracy, impartiality, supplying multiple perspectives and avoiding conflicts of interest. The project has continued such user research and also commissioned experiments and evaluation to determine how well the Trust Indicators work.
In 2022-23 the project promoted media literacy in a collaborative ad campaign with three other organizations: University of Washington’s Center for an Informed Public, UW’s Accelerating Social Transformation Program and the Radio and Television Digital News Association. The campaign offered ads on Microsoft’s Start and Outlook with thought-provoking messages based on the 8 Trust Indicators. The ads led to a quiz and an interactive Trust Indicator page. Exposure to the Trust Indicators achieved a 60 percent increase in participants’ confidence to assess the reliability of news.
In December, the Trust Project began running updated ads in 14 countries and 8 languages, including dialects, in a rapid response campaign with Microsoft to address disinformation capitalizing on the Israel-Hamas war.
Flexible across various educational uses, the Trust Indicators have been applied in schools, libraries and civic interest groups. The Economist Educational Foundation used them to create a guide for kids to identify trustworthy news, complete with video interviews of journalists. A group of public librarians developed a bookmark showing one Trust Indicator, “Type of Work”, to help patrons differentiate news, opinion, analysis and paid content by learning their definitions. A university library developed an information literacy course with the Trust Indicators for students writing class papers, and the University of Arizona’s Cronkite School of Journalism incorporated them in massive open online courses (MOOCs) on news literacy for health professionals and adult learners. A group of civic leaders developed a simple, interactive paper “daisy wheel” to help families check whether a news source offered multiple perspectives.
The Trust Project invites educators and others to work with us to create their own Trust Indicator tools and share them widely. The indicators invite people to embrace their own role in democracy and learn how to recognize when they can trust news – and when they cannot. We hope to continue these campaigns and reach even more people with this simple, proven tool for building resilience against disinformation and its goal – distrust of one another and of civic institutions.
The Trust Project is a global network of news organizations working to affirm and amplify journalism’s commitment to transparency, accuracy and inclusion. The nonprofit created the 8 Trust Indicators®, which are a collaborative, journalism-generated standard for news that helps both regular people and technology companies’ algorithms easily assess the authority and integrity of news. Hundreds of news organizations in Europe, Latin America, Canada, the United States and Hong Kong participate. They must pass an initial review for accurate, inclusive and independent reporting, then work with the Trust Project to apply the Trust Indicators on their site. To show the Trust Mark logo, they must pass a regular compliance review.
Sally Lehrman, Journalist and Chief Executive Director, Trust Project, USA.