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Exploring options to build trust between journalists and audiences in collegiate community journalism education

Wilderman, Melanie
This case study research explored options for improving trust between journalists and their communities within the boundaries of collegiate community journalism education. Data collected from students who completed a community journalism class, the instructor of that class, and journalism professionals who engaged with the class was analyzed using a two-step qualitative text analysis coding process. Data collected from students included both written reflections and in-depth interviews; data collected from the class instructor and the journalism professionals included in-depth interviews. Findings produced four dominant themes that participants spoke of most frequently including: journalists being part of the communities they work in, journalists working to meet community needs, the multiple elements and requirements that lead to doing journalism right, and finally, with all three preceding themes relating to a final overarching theme that practicing journalism is quite hard. Conclusions from the findings included: student journalists do understand that trust is not easily gained from an audience, and while they seem to understand reliability and credibility as related to trust, they have less of a grasp on the element of responsiveness; students understand and have a desire to implement community journalism practices across multiple platforms, including digital; political divisiveness continues to increasingly shape how journalists think of trust in the journalism profession; students somewhat understand that improving the relationship between journalist and audience is more of a responsibility on the journalist, but they tend to blame audience members for shortcomings in the relationship; and, although seasoned professionals and educators understand that younger journalists operate in a different media landscape than a decade ago, they may not fully understand how those differences have shaped the younger journalists' thoughts about trust and the relationship with their audience.