Journalists in Relationship with Community: Building Trust

Being Present

“I don’t know any other way to build trust, other than being present,” says Terry. And the other part, again, is responding. He says, “If you are asking people questions to participate in crowdsourcing, that is a level of building trust because you know that if they respond to you, that they’re engaged and interested and then you respond to them. That is the beginning of a relationship.”

Keep it Casual to Build a Connection

Kavolshaia  usually starts out an interview  by just talking about weather or something. “Sometimes, if I have to go to either their place of business or their house I’ll just look around and see if I can find something in common or just something that is just as a talking point, and just go from there. Oh, they have a Faberge egg, and you say, ‘Oh my grandma used to collect those growing up,’ or whatever. Something that little can go a long way establishing trust and making that person more relaxed to talk to you.”

Being Yourself — Not Your Organization

Kavolshaia says sometimes you have to distinguish yourself as a journalist from the station you work for, and explain that you’re dedicated to each story and telling it in the correct way—more than you’re dedicated to trying to impress a boss. 

Be Clear About Expectations and Options

When Natalie reaches out to someone who might be nervous about speaking to a reporter, or have some reason that they might need anonymity she tries to mention that from the very start, because she knows the outlet she works with will usually allow that. She also lets people know that if they’re not comfortable answering or don’t know an answer to a question to just let her know and they can move on. She says, “These are generally not people I’m trying to like, hold accountable for something and ask them, you know, the hard answers to all of my grilling questions.” 

Legitimize Their Expertise

“I think we’re very used to the ‘How Awful It Was’ story. And I think the stories that I like to build, they’re like, yeah, look how awful this was—and look how far she came. What kept her from dying versus the other case? Something was done better to save her life.” Adriana says the people who she interviews have specific expertise in the thing they’ve lived through, even when it’s unwanted expertise, and they often have insights that no one else could have.


How can you work to share power with community members? Find out from Local News Lab in 5 lessons about sharing power in journalism collaborations. You can find this and other related resources on Gather under the Building Power topic.
Read Natalie’s Guide to Less Extractive Reporting!

* * Lightning Chat! * * Looking for more ways to build trust? Consider starting a Community Advisory Board!
* * Lightning Chat! * * Consider these ways to design events with trust in mind.