Download our media kit. Contact Sally Lehrman for interviews and background at slehrman.markkula@gmail.com. For the Santa Clara University press office, please call Deborah Lohse at 408-554-5121 or email at dlohse@scu.edu.

The Trust Project is an international consortium of news organizations collaborating to create standards  of  transparency in journalism with the goal of building a more trustworthy and trusted press. Led by award-winning journalist Sally Lehrman, it is hosted by Santa Clara University’s Markkula Center for Applied Ethics. Search engines and social media platforms, which have become important news distributors, are participating as external partners.

We apply a user-centered design process. Based on dozens of in-depth interviews with a diverse spectrum of public voices, news executives involved in the Trust Project identified and designed a system of “Trust Indicators”  —  that is, standardized disclosures about the news outlet, the journalist, and the commitments behind a story  —  to make it easy for the public to identify trustworthy news. Digital platforms, such as Google, Facebook, Bing, and Twitter, can use the Trust Indicators and the machine-readable signals associated with them to surface trustworthy news to their users.

The guiding principles behind the Trust Project consortium are adapted from the principles of a free and socially responsible press put forward by the Hutchins Commission in 1947. The commission was formed in response to the public’s deep suspicion of the press during that era, and Henry R. Luce, publisher of Time and Life, helped fund it.

 

We strive to provide:

  • Truthful, verified news and information in a context that gives them meaning
  • Forums for civil exchanges and greater understanding of various viewpoints, with fairness in mind
  • Stories, information and ideas that reflect diverse types of communities and their interests and views
  • And to uphold the public’s interest, which includes holding the powerful accountable and shining a light in unexpected places.

The Trust Indicators incorporate a commitment to:

  • Fairness and accuracy. Publishing corrections or clarifications as promptly as possible.
  • Disclosures that explain our mission, source(s) of funding and the organization behind us.
  • Insight into our methods and where we get our information.
  • A diversity of voices and perspectives.
  • Opportunities for public engagement.

Out of an initial set of 37, the Trust Project collaborators decided on a core set of eight Trust Indicators to implement first. They are:

  • Best Practices: What are your standards? Who funds the news outlet? What is the outlet’s mission? Plus commitments to ethics, diverse voices, accuracy, making corrections and other standards.
  • Author/Reporter Expertise: Who made this? Details about the journalist, including their expertise and other stories they have worked on.
  • Type of Work: What is this? Labels to distinguish opinion, analysis and advertiser (or sponsored) content from news reports.
  • Citations and References: For investigative or in-depth stories, access to the sources behind the facts and assertions.
  • Methods: Also for in-depth stories, information about why reporters chose to pursue a story and how they went about the process.
  • Locally Sourced? Lets you know when the story has local origin or expertise. Was the reporting done on the scene, with deep knowledge about the local situation or community?
  • Diverse Voices: A newsroom’s efforts and commitment to bringing in diverse perspectives.  Readers noticed when certain voices, ethnicities, or political persuasions were missing.
  • Actionable Feedback: A newsroom’s efforts to engage the public’s help in setting coverage priorities, contributing to the reporting process, ensuring accuracy and other areas. Readers want to participate and provide feedback that might alter or expand a story.

 

For explanations of the Trust Indicators and how we came to them, read Lehrman’s essay in The Atlantic.

Each news organization displays the Trust Indicators within their own design environment on both article pages and site-wide pages. See an early example of what the Trust Indicators look like in this mockup. You’ll find links to the Trust Indicators live on publisher sites on this Trello board.

The Trust Mark is a logo that indicates that the page was produced by a participant in the Trust Project consortium. Many participating publishers will use the Trust Mark on the page where they describe their standards and practices.

To use the logo, a site must be a member of the Trust Project consortium. That means the news organization has worked closely with the Trust Project and has agreed to display the eight core Trust Indicators and their attributes under certain conditions. For definitions of each, see “What is a Trust Indicator?” above. For details on when and how the Trust Indicators should be displayed, see the Trust Protocol and click on the editorial guidelines links.

 

Consortium participants also support a Statement of Principles.

 

Participants don’t have to use the Trust Mark on their site, but only participants are able to use it.

The short answer: News that is accurate, accountable and ethically produced. But how do you know? That’s what the Trust Project is about. Through its ongoing collaboration with the public and top news executives around the world, and with the support of big search and social media companies, the consortium is defining both public-facing and technical standards for quality journalism that can be easily recognized anywhere.

While our Trust Indicators can be seen on the page, each one also is associated with a machine-readable signal to news distribution platforms via a “tag” embedded in the HTML code. We have created a standardized technical language for these tags by working with Schema.org, a community that creates and maintains vocabularies to support structured data on the Internet. This ensures that the Trust Indicators integrate with the main standard for metatagging information. Google, Facebook, Bing and Twitter will use the indicators and their associated tags in various ways, such as in their algorithms or for displaying the Trust Indicators themselves.

The first set of companies to use the Trust Indicators worked together to iron out the technical and visual aspects of this ambitious effort to provide consistent transparency to the public. Over time, more and more news companies will be able to join the movement. The Institute for Nonprofit News has built and is testing a WordPress plug-in so small companies like their members can participate. Haymarket Media, an international trade and specialty consumer publisher, is creating documentation for building the Trust Indicators in Drupal, another popular content management system.

We attack misinformation by helping you get more access to the real thing  —  and helping you know when you’re looking at it. Our newsroom collaborators provide tools for you to make informed decisions about the news you decide to read and share. The Trust Indicators highlight the features that people have said matter to them, and that distinguish trustworthy news from all the other kinds of information out there.

 

By focusing on reading and sharing news with integrity behind it, we can lessen the power of misinformation and stop its spread.

All the sites we’re working with in Phase I have put a lot of effort into compliance, and the Trust Project has performed a compliance check on all of them. The sites that have been working closely with us in this way will be able to use the Trust Mark.

At this stage, compliance questions and complaints go to the Trust Project internal team, which will work with the site to address them. Publishers are to provide the agreed-upon information to users and follow the semantics and the syntax of the Trust Indicators using Schema.org vocabulary. If errors are found by the Trust Project or third-party validators like the Structured Data Testing Tool, publishers will fix the errors on an ongoing basis.

 

In addition, Google and other platforms will use their existing quality assurance strategies, including comparing what’s shown on a page to the data they receive. There are several additional options for addressing accountability and deception as we scale that are being developed by a News Leadership Council working group.

The Trust Project is led by Sally Lehrman, senior director of journalism ethics at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University. Subramaniam Vincent serves as tech lead. Researchers, writers, and other consultants pitch in as needed. Our News Leadership Council guides the Trust Project on Trust Indicators and advises on core issues related to information literacy and building trust in journalism. We also rely on our strategy advisers, with expertise in journalism management, technology and public engagement. We are based at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University.

The Trust Indicators emerged from a collaboration led by Lehrman that includes top editors around the world. She began by commissioning one-on-one user interviews to understand what people value in news — and why and when they trust it. In workshops that followed, news executives married those results with journalism values to identify features that underpin quality and trustworthiness in news: the Trust Indicators. Through design sprints and a development and engineering event, they created a system to increase the openness and transparency of news stories by displaying and signaling the Trust Indicators.

The process dates back to 2012, when Lehrman brought the Society of Professional Journalists’ New Media Executive Roundtable and Online Credibility Watch to Santa Clara University’s Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, creating the Roundtable on Digital Journalism Ethics. Participants in the 2014 gathering expressed concerns about the ways in which the pressure to get clicks was degrading news ethics and quality. Lehrman asked a specialist in machine learning at Twitter, and Richard Gingras, head of Google News, if algorithms could be used to support ethics instead of hurting them, and they said yes. Gingras agreed to collaborate, and top editors in the industry from more than 75 news outlets and institutions joined the effort that followed, contributing to working groups focused on every element of the process.

The interviews are compiled in sets posted on our SCU website. We learned that many people work very hard to check and cross-check the news to be sure they can trust it. Others feel overwhelmed by the quantity of news. Still others are frustrated and angry by what they feel is misrepresentation by the news. We found out that people wanted a lot more information about, as one interviewee put it, “how the story was built.” For a summary, read Lehrman’s essay in The Atlantic: “What People Really Want From News Organizations.”

No. News organizations volunteer their time as we collaborate to create, define and develop the Trust Indicators. We are an open source project, which means that the materials produced by our collaboration are available to all legitimate news companies that agree to abide by the group’s commitments and Trust Protocol. We are hosted by the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University.

Not right now. The Trust Indicators are meant to enable people to quickly assess the trustworthiness of a story and are produced by publishers on their sites. If you’re a regular contributor, you may want to ask your clients to create an author page for you as part of the Author/Producer Information Trust Indicator.

We have one chapter based in Brazil, which is developing the Trust Protocol among news organizations there. Projeto Credibilidade was established in late 2016 as partnership between Projor and Unesp. Its media consortium includes 13 news companies and Abraji. Credibilidade is led by Angela Pimenta and Professor Rolfsen Belda and sponsored by Google.

The Trust Project must cover its own costs through fundraising. The Trust Project is funded by Craig Newmark Philanthropies, Google, the Democracy Fund, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, and the Markkula Foundation. The Trust Project’s initial funder was Craig Newmark, founder of craigslist. Google was an early financial supporter as well. The consortium is hosted by the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics.

Both Richard and Craig have been valued advisers since the early days of the Trust Project.

 

Richard Gingras, vice president of news products at Google, has supported the Trust Project and collaborated with us from the very start. Richard works actively and tirelessly in many ways to promote quality in global journalism. For the Trust Project, he is a powerful evangelist and can always be counted upon for expert advice and encouragement.

 

Craig has a deep commitment to journalism as the engine of democracy. Lehrman met him when he was giving a talk on the need for trustworthy, accountable news at Stanford University. He became an important supporter to the Trust Project as a funder and valued connector, bringing our work to the attention of key leaders and potential collaborators. He also has become a major supporter of other efforts to fight news hoaxes and ensure the public gets real facts and information.

Founded in 1986 with a seed grant and initial endowment from Linda and A.C. “Mike” Markkula Jr., the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics brings the traditions of ethical thinking to bear on real world problems.  Beyond a full range of programs for the Santa Clara University Community, the Center also serves professionals in fields from business to health care, from government to the social sector, providing innovative approaches to problems from fake news to privacy protection. Through its website and international collaborations, the Center brings ethical decision-making resources to the wider world. For more information see www.scu.edu/ethics/.

  • For news companies: Now is a great time to talk with us about participating in our Phase II implementation. Look over our Collaborator Materials and contact Sally Lehrman (slehrman.markkula@gmail.com).

 

  • I’m a supporter. How can I help?
      • Make news more transparent: We want to learn more and do more. Help the Trust Project conduct more reader interviews and develop better tools by donating to our work. Donate here.
      • Become a Trust Ambassador: Help newsrooms do a better job meeting people’s needs. Sign up for our updates. Let us contact you when we need to consult members of the public for interviews and other public engagement efforts. Sign up for our emails here.