Lift­ing the veil: We want to be trans­par­ent about how The Bee cre­ates its journalism

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - Insight - BY JOE KI­ETA jki­[email protected]­

As ed­i­tor of The Fresno Bee, I get to see up close the ded­i­ca­tion our jour­nal­ists have to their craft. Ev­ery day, they seek the truth by ask­ing some­times dif­fi­cult questions, and then ver­i­fy­ing the in­for­ma­tion they re­ceive. They work hard to get the story right — and when we fall short, we cor­rect our work.

But jour­nal­ists — my­self in­cluded — don’t do a good enough job of ex­plain­ing the “how” and “why” of what we do. In in­for­mal con­ver­sa­tions I have ev­ery day, many read­ers seem baf­fled by the process of journalism. Oth­ers seem to think that ev­ery de­ci­sion we make is po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated. It isn’t, but it’s fair to say that we need to do a bet­ter job of ex­plain­ing why it isn’t.

I want to lift the veil. We can be much more trans­par­ent and open about what we do, how we do it and why we do it. The pro­cesses we use to re­port the news are de­vel­oped to en­gen­der your trust. But the prob­lem is you don’t re­ally know much about how we go about our work, or why you should trust what we do. That’s on us. We have to do a bet­ter job of ex­plain­ing how news is made.

We know that be­cause you told us. Since early this year, The Bee has been en­gaged in a project with Ari­zona State Uni­ver­sity’s News Co/Lab, part of the Wal­ter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Com­mu­ni­ca­tion. As part of this project, and with the ad­di­tional col­lab­o­ra­tion of the Cen­ter for Me­dia En­gage­ment at the Uni­ver­sity of Texas at Austin, we con­ducted a sur­vey of our au­di­ence.

The sur­vey took a deep dive into how our com­mu­nity un­der­stands journalism and how it views how The Bee does its job, both pos­i­tive and neg­a­tive. On the pos­i­tive side, The Bee’s au­di­ence does not as­so­ciate “lo­cal news” with the word “fake.” Con­versely, the sur­vey found that less than three-quar-

ters of re­spon­dents could cor­rectly choose the fake head­line when shown a list of real and fake head­lines. Par­tic­i­pants also thought it was easy to tell the dif­fer­ence be­tween news and opin­ion con­tent, but only half could cor­rectly spot a news story when com­pared to an opin­ion piece, anal­y­sis or spon­sored con­tent. That mis­un­der­stand­ing is on us. We need to do a bet­ter job of mak­ing clear those dis­tinc­tions when we present our sto­ries and ed­i­to­ri­als.

The Bee be­lieves trans­parency and en­gage­ment – which we de­fine as deeper con­ver­sa­tions and col­lab­o­ra­tion with the peo­ple and in­sti­tu­tions of our com­mu­nity – are im­por­tant ways to help a com­mu­nity un­der­stand how news and journalism work, and why it mat­ters. You are an im­por­tant part of the news ecosys­tem. You can play a role in mak­ing it stronger and more en­gag­ing. We want to help you do that.

The first place we’re em­bed­ding trans­parency and en­gage­ment into our journalism is a topic of over­whelm­ing im­por­tance right now: this fall’s elec­tions. But elec­tions cov­er­age is just a start. We plan to do this through­out our news­room. We’ll learn from what we do dur­ing the cam­paign, and ex­tend it more broadly.

We’ve al­ready be­gun:

Our Devin Nunes pro­file story con­tains a box that high­lights reporter Rory Appleton’s work on the story. How many sources were con­tacted? Who agreed to be in­ter­viewed? Who didn’t? How much archival re­search was con­ducted? The an­swers to these questions pro­vide con­text into how the story was re­ported — and makes the process more trans­par­ent. This is highly rel­e­vant in­for­ma­tion for you, and we will do this of­ten. We’re adding bi­o­graph­i­cal in­for­ma­tion about re­porters on sto­ries. You’ll see that on the Nunes piece, and more broadly in the news­room soon. And we’re cre­at­ing a fre­quently asked questions list for The Bee’s po­lit­i­cal cov­er­age. This will be a liv­ing doc­u­ment where read­ers can ask questions and ex­pect an­swers. Again, we plan to ex­pand the FAQ to give you more in­sight into what we do through­out the news­room.

Our trans­parency and en­gage­ment won’t stop there. Among other things in the works, we’ll help con­vene a broad and deep con­ver­sa­tion about our city’s north-south di­vide. And we’re work­ing on other ideas. These ini­tia­tives are a jour­ney, not a des­ti­na­tion.

As we pro­ceed, we’ll be work­ing with com­mu­nity groups to broaden these con­ver­sa­tions. We ex­pect to col­lab­o­rate with, among oth­ers, the re­cently cre­ated In­sti­tute for Me­dia and Pub­lic Trust at Fresno State, pub­lic li­braries and other lo­cal or­ga­ni­za­tions that want to help im­prove the com­mu­nity’s in­for­ma­tion ecosys­tem.

We don’t as­sume we have all the an­swers. We do be­lieve that if we all work to­gether, we can make a dif­fer­ence. We need your ideas. Help us fill in our blind spots.

We strongly be­lieve that the work we do at The Bee is es­sen­tial to the cen­tral San Joaquin Val­ley. We are proud of the journalism we de­liver. It’s work that helps right wrongs and shines light on im­por­tant is­sues.

We also know we can al­ways im­prove, and that the best way to make that hap­pen is with your help. We want to build more trust be­tween the com­mu­nity and the jour­nal­ists in The Bee’s news­room, in part through these new trans­parency and en­gage­ment ini­tia­tives. Let us know how we’re do­ing, and how we can do bet­ter.

ERIC PAUL ZAMORA Fresno Bee file

The Fresno Bee news­room, pho­tographed Aug. 15 in Fresno.

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