Ecosystem engagement project aims to build trust, financial support
With American trust in media near an all-time low, the Oklahoma Media Center is collaborating on a groundbreaking ecosystem engagement project to move the needle on local news consumption habits.
The multiphase ecosystem study will include scientific polling, academic field research, newsroom training and an engagement fund. The project’s goal is to find out where citizens get their local news, why they believe or trust information and what would make them financially support local journalism.
The Oklahoma City-based Kirkpatrick Foundation is funding the comprehensive project being executed by OMC, which supports and strengthens Oklahoma’s local news ecosystem. A nonpartisan 501(c)(3), OMC includes more than 25 news outlets statewide, ranging from broadcast to nonprofit to Indigenous and Black-owned media outlets to longstanding newspapers.
For the phase one polling, the Oklahoma City-based firm Cole Hargrave Snodgrass & Associates conducted the survey of 500 registered voters with a margin of error of plus or minus 4.3 percent. Interviewing was conducted in December 2022 with live telephone interviews via landline, mobile phones and text-to-web data collection. In February, OMC released a three-page executive summary of the polling to share among its collaborative newsrooms.
Here are some key findings from the CHS & Associates survey:
• Sixty-six percent of those polled saw bias in reporting as a major problem among the Oklahoma media. And the closer to home the media source is, the more trusted it becomes.
• Fully 75 percent of those polled indicated they would trust a news organization more if journalists were transparent and prominently acknowledged mistakes. Additionally, 56 percent said an outlet recommended by friends would earn more trust.
For the survey questions, the polling firm collaborated with academic researchers at the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University.
“I am excited to be a part of this effort that takes a fundamental look at how Oklahomans consume news and their preferences,” said Pat McFerron, president of CHS & Associates. “It is great to take a step back from polling on news items and get to the basics of what makes our society move.”
Building on the polling research, phase two of the project is focusing on gathering input from deep listening in rural news deserts and underserved communities. Researchers are Allyson Shortle, associate professor of political science and co-founder of OU’s Community Engagement and Experiments Lab, and Rosemary Avance, assistant professor at OSU’s School of Media and Strategic Communications.
“Our research engages these questions at the community level, asking individuals and groups across the state to help us unravel their information networks and understand what motivates their news consumption decisions,” Avance said. “This study is about more than just the news; it has implications for civic engagement, educational and health-related decisions, and quality of life across the state. I’m eager to hear from Oklahomans directly.”
Merging the quantitative with the qualitative, researchers are collaborating academically with phase one’s scientific polling data.
“We know it’s the first qualitative observational study of both news deserts and underserved metro communities statewide in Oklahoma, and to our knowledge in the country,” said Rob Collins, OMC project manager. “Their recommendations in this academic analysis will be preliminary, based on observational and qualitative methods in strategically targeted portions of our state.”
After drilling into diverse audiences and engaging underreported areas with personal interviews, a comprehensive report will be published in September to maximize the project’s collective impact.
Trusting News training
As the final report is shared this fall, OMC will be collaborating with another nonprofit. The nationally known Trusting News trains and empowers journalists to take responsibility for demonstrating credibility and actively earning trust through transparency and engagement.
Trusting News will interpret key findings from the academic analysis and construct a comprehensive training plan for all OMC news orgs. After a September launch event led by Director Joy Mayer, Trusting News will turn insights into action with strategic training sessions for OMC news orgs.
“The research the OMC is doing is so important,” said Mayer, the founder of Trusting News. “If journalists want to earn the trust of their communities, they need to first deeply understand people’s experiences with and perceptions of the news. Oklahoma journalists have an opportunity to build on these insights through specific actions aimed at shoring up credibility and being responsive to the communities they serve. I’m excited to work with them.”
Ecosystem Engagement Fund
OMC, launched by Inasmuch Foundation and the Local Media Association in 2020, will distribute stipends from an Ecosystem Engagement Fund in the final phase.
For those news outlets participating in engagement projects, Trusting News will provide office hours, one-on-one coaching and online support to execute measurable, meaningful projects. This will help local journalists navigate obstacles and implement strategies based on the study’s comprehensive data to bridge the divide.
OMC’s project was unanimously chosen by participating news orgs during the collaborative’s strategic planning with Mission Karisma supported by the Democracy Fund.
“There is national interest in this project,” Collins said. “We’ve been sharing and talking about this more, and we’re seeing that it’s pretty unique. We’re using the data to understand perceptions of local news and hope to lay the groundwork for building trust and engagement. We’re looking for additional collaborative funding because we think this project could be scalable. If we can do this in Oklahoma, this can be done anywhere.”
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Oklahoma News Ecosystem Study
Ecosystem project announced, phase one polling data released. Higher ed researchers conduct deep listening in underserved areas in phase two.
Higher ed researchers publish phase three report. Trusting News trains OMC news organizations on key findings based on comprehensive data.
Applications open for optional OMC ecosystem engagement project stipends. Trusting News will provide ongoing support and coaching for news organizations.
Funded local news organizations deliver measurable, meaningful engagement projects with remaining funds awarded upon completion of projects.