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Conservatives and media: WCPO partnered on study about how to build trust

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Posted at 6:00 AM, Aug 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-16 11:08:44-04

Back in March, I wrote about how WCPO9 partnered with Trusting News and the Center for Media Engagement to participate in a study of conservative members of our audience. The project is called Re-engaging the Right.

We started with an online survey of conservative-leaning people living in our region. We had more than 250 people respond to the WCPO survey. Across the country, 27 newsrooms participated and the project surveyed 3,467 Americans who consider themselves conservative or right-leaning.

After that, I interviewed five of those participants more in-depth and shared those interviews as part of the project. The research included 91 total in-depth interviews.

The results aren’t overly surprising, but they do offer some concrete suggestions on how to improve.

Some of the key findings included:

There is more trust for local news than national news among the respondents and more trust for local TV stations than newspapers.

Some people felt that the media stereotypes conservatives and those who lean right, painting them with a broad brush.

Bias was a major concern. This isn’t a surprise since we have heard about this concern for years now. The respondents defined bias broadly. It could mean the stories journalists cover (or don’t cover), how journalists ask questions, and what they inferred were journalists’ attitudes toward the issues they reported on.

There are more findings, but those are the most consistent, major themes.

If you want to take a deep look at the research, you can find it here.

From there, the Center for Media Engagement developed six suggestions for improving trust with people who are politically conservative:

1. Build relationships with people who have conservative and right-leaning viewpoints in your community and listen to them.

2. Include a variety of voices from people with conservative and right-leaning views in stories. Journalists should be cautious of using “conservative” or other terms as catch-all labels for people who may have very different beliefs.

3. Consider diversity of political beliefs and backgrounds when hiring for the newsroom.

4. Focus on story facts, not interpretation.

5. Correct mistakes promptly to demonstrate trustworthiness.

6. Don’t criticize only one side of an issue.

I have had several helpful and productive conversations around the above topics with people here in our region.

I won’t claim we are perfect, but we always are working to improve in these areas. And we pledge to double our efforts when it comes to all of the above topics.

I wrote back in March that we won’t win back conservative readers and viewers overnight -- but that it was important to try, because bi-partisan dialogue is essential for our country.

I still believe that. And my hope is this research helps us -- and other local media -- improve how we serve our audiences.

If you have questions or want to share your thoughts directly with me, as always, feel free to email me or contact me on Twitter.

Mike Canan is the Senior Director of Local Content at WCPO 9. Contact him at mike.canan@wcpo.com. Follow him on Twitter or Instagram at @Mike_Canan.