The University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications (UFCJC) and the News Integrity Initiative (NII) are forming a new partnership to examine what research from multiple academic disciplines tells us about community engagement and trust in news. The yearlong, $250,000 project will also develop experimental curriculum and training for local newsrooms to help implement best practices from that research into news coverage tactics.
“We know that the public cares about the institution of journalism and wants to offer their expertise, experiences and diverse perspectives,” said Molly de Aguiar, managing director of the News Integrity Initiative. “We also know that this runs counter to decades of newsroom practices that intentionally keep the public at arm’s length. Having a deeper understanding of the science behind consuming, processing and even avoiding information can help us create productive, collaborative partnerships between newsrooms and the communities they serve.”
“We’re convinced that insights from behavioral, cognitive and social science research can help newsrooms connect with their communities in new and meaningful ways,” said UFCJC Dean Diane McFarlin. “Newsrooms have an expectation that their audiences consume and process information in a certain way, but we collectively have very little insight into the science of how that actually happens. This form of research in the human mind is a powerful but underutilized tool for facilitating engagement, one we believe can inform a new culture in newsrooms.”
The first phase of the project will convene a summit of scholars and newsroom leaders and journalists in June to facilitate a conversation, or “living lit review,” tapping the expertise in fields such as sociology, behavior economics, psychology, neuroscience and others. The conversations, facilitated by journalists, will help inform strategies to increase trust between newsrooms and the communities they serve. The project is seeking insights into worldviews, identity, information avoidance, community building and other areas of research that can inform robust strategies to facilitate increased engagement and sustainability of news.
Following the June summit, the project’s team will synthesize and develop an actionable report and training program based on the conversations and supplemental research around these topics. Research professors at UFCJC will develop experiments to test the veracity of the findings in experiments run through the College’s Innovation News Center and other partner newsrooms representing a diversity of geography, media, audience and reach.
“We are excited to leverage our strength as one of the country’s preeminent journalism and communication ‘teaching hospitals’ to curate scholarship from a range of disciplines and apply it in practice,” McFarlin said. “Doing that in concert with the News Integrity Initiative, and the breadth of knowledge its leadership and partners bring, will amplify the power of these insights.”
The program will be managed at UFCJC through the College’s experimental content and product incubator Hatch, led by Journalism faculty member Matt Sheehan, in partnership with the College’s Center for Public Interest Communications. This project follows an initial “Science of Story Building” project funded in part by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation as part of the UF Innovators Series. That initial project took a deep dive into what science and research can tell us about what makes stories compelling, memorable and inspiring.