With just days to go until the US midterms, there has never been so much at stake in terms of misinformation and polarisation. We can all think of examples of the consequences of some of those issues, which are playing out around us in real-time. The Reuters team have been hard at work producing election data, maps, infographics and more to help publishers cover the midterms accurately.
This episode Chris Sutcliffe is joined by Reuters News Agency’s Politics Editor Scott Malone, Digital Verification Editor Stephanie Burnett and Director of Emerging Products and Special Events Rob Schack. They discuss how data and trends can help cut through some of the noise, how this work will feed into future elections and other reporting, and ultimately, how it affects the trust audiences have in the news they consume.
Here are some highlights:
How each election impacts the next
Scott Malone: Planning for an election usually starts the day after the last one. So from early in 2021, we were thinking about these midterms and the direction they would go in, and what that means. That means most importantly keeping a close track on the country and American’s attitudes and what peoples concerns are; what they’re motivated by, what they’re worried about.
It means building, having reporting teams that are on the ground and closely tracking key races. And it means having a great data set for election results so that you’re able to report things in real-time as they come in.
One election leads into the next. You see similar themes emerge, phenomena that emerge in one race repeating in another one. We have an example of that this time around. In 2020, then-President Donald Trump famously refused to acknowledge that he had lost the election. That’s a false claim that he’s continued to repeat for the past two years. And we do now see some candidates in his mould also raising questions as to whether they would accept defeat.
Building trust with audiences through data
Stephanie Burnett: Studies have shown for general audiences that transparency is key. When you’re dealing with data, you have an opportunity to put that out there and be transparent about it. Now, granted, there’s a lot of complicated information out there, the numbers can be overwhelming. So it’s also the job of journalists to distil that information and communicate it in an accurate, compelling way that is easily understandable for audiences.
So I would say when it comes to data, portraying that data does help build trust in the media for audiences specifically, because that then gives them the information that they say, “Okay, this is unbiased information because it’s the numbers, it’s the facts. And now I can take that next step to come up with my own conclusion, or take that next step to make a decision.”
Opening access to smaller publishers
Rob Schack: I often describe our role as trying to make a smaller publisher look big, supplying them with the access and the reach that they might not be able to get. It used to be only the big networks that were able to get access to the US election data. Efforts like that help us help the smaller or medium sized publisher who’s just starting out, or maybe just launching their first OTT service, or digital publisher – especially one with a political bent or mission get off the ground and equalizes them with the big guys to a degree.
We’re the ‘ingredient company’ providing the material that our customers are using to help them present something to their end user audience. And we really present the content in three different flavours. It’s thee news reporting, and pictures, text, video imagery, lots and lots of partner content that is unstructured to our clients help them cover all aspects of the election.
There is the data itself from the National Election poll, which is like an API of the raw data, same speed, same robustness, same polling that is shared by the US networks, and then the infographics as a third leg of the stool, so that customers of any stripe will be able to dip in and choose which of those three legs – maybe all of them – make sense for them to use in their recording.
Trust trends to address in the next few years
Stephanie Burnett: We live in a world now where people have unfiltered access to news – or apparent ‘news’ – in the age of social media. This isn’t the 70s, 80s, 90s any more where there was filtered access. So it seems like the world is so much worse.
What I’d like to see is to tap into a little bit of an empathetic bone in the sense of understanding the audience’s concern. This will help with writing a stronger story, or speaking a stronger story if you’re doing broadcast.
For example, in the early days of Covid, when vaccines were approved there was a lot of vaccine hesitancy. It’s easy to say, well, the FDA approved it, the EU approved it, get on with it, it’s totally safe. But if we take a step back and focus on what is a concern, there were a lot of questions around, well, this has happened so fast! It’s the fasted it’s ever been approved.
If we tap into these kinds of questions that audiences have and take them seriously… if we answer why the process was much faster than it was, that can help build trust because we’re answering questions or concerns that the community or audiences have had.
This Conversations episode is sponsored by Reuters. With unmatched coverage in over 16 languages, and reaching billions of people worldwide every day, Reuters provides trusted intelligence that powers humans and machines to make smart decisions. Founded in 1851, Reuters has remained true to the Trust Principles of independence, integrity and freedom from bias, working relentlessly to bring news from the source and from every corner of the world.