With credibility, reliability and the term “fake news” on the line, journalists are looking to see what they can do to keep audiences not only engaged, but trusting the media. In Her Thursday afternoon session at the national conference of ACES: The Society for Editing, Jane Elizabeth dove into what it takes to reach the fact-resistant audience.
Elizabeth is the director of the Accountability Journalism Program at the American Press Institute, which is a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank. Elizabeth works on API's area of focus in enhancing the watch dog role.
Throughout the session, Elizabeth went through three big areas API found news publishers should pay special attention to: partisanship of audiences, misinformation that goes viral and how to reach people in general.
In regard to partisanship, she suggested that editors know what the general audience wants, and also what the partisan audience wants. By doing so, journalists can reach more than their normal audience and curate content for readers.
Another tip was to not spend time attacking the people saying false information, but rather to attack the issue they’ve falsely talked about. To keep more audiences engaged, she suggested clarifying issues and teaching the people what they don’t know.
“We talk about attacking the issues and focusing on the issues, and not the people,” said Elizabeth. “That’s not to say that if somebody is lying, or whatever you call it, … but if somebody is not telling the truth, you call them out for it.”
The second area she spoke on was dealing with viral misinformation.
“This the fuel that’s feeding the fact-resistance,” Elizabeth said. “It seems overwhelming, but again, it doesn’t mean we have to ignore it.”
She suggested that often times the false information is coming from memes. She gave the suggestion for journalists to create fact-based memes linking to accurate news stories.
“Research has shown that memes are the most effective ways to get out false information because they’re really attractive, there’s so many of them and they’re very sharable,” Elizabeth said.
The last area she hit on was to understand the people of the general audiences. When people read the news with a story tied to it, they not only remember it, but believe it.
“This is actual brain research; it does work,” Elizabeth said. “We all know that if you’re writing, it’s better to have some kind of anecdote.”
She gave additional tips in understanding people, saying audiences were more apt to be engaged in a story that was simpler and had fewer adjectives and emphasized solutions. She also reminded editors the importance of not pretending emotions don’t exist, and additionally that there are still readers that think in the middle and are not as extreme.
The session was very interactive with over a dozen people asking questions and engaging in discussion. Elizabeth had a lot to offer the editors on how to reach the fact-resistant audience. She ended the session with what she thought was one of the most important tips in these recent times.
“This sounds obvious, but this is like the worst time in history to be making mistakes,” Elizabeth said. “If you do make a mistake, own up to it.”
“This sounds obvious, but this is like the worst time in history to be making mistakes. If you do make a mistake, own up to it.”