Q: How does transparency make a story more reliable?

Credit: Reuters Backstory

A:Transparency is the “story behind the story,” and the more a news consumer knows about how a story is put together, the easier it is to evaluate—and trust—that information.  Although there are many different interpretations of what constitutes transparency, it’s basically a description of how journalists do their work. It could be as straightforward as a hyperlink to an original document or a line explaining why a source is not named, or as elaborate as this sidebar story by VICE News about how journalist Nick Turse reported on the 2018 ethnic cleansing in the Democratic Republic of Congo. 

Credit: Vice News

In The Elements of Journalism, Kovach and Rosenstiel say transparency shows respect for the audience because it allows them to judge the validity of the information and the process used to gather it. The more complex the story, the more critical it is to show the evidence and who provided itand to openly discuss any potential conflicts, inconsistencies or major questions that remain unanswered or even unanswerable. 

In the excellent article, “Can transparency save journalism from outside attacks?”, the Society of Professional Journalist’s Anna Gutierrez explains why the SPJ added “Be Accountable and Transparent” to its Code of Ethics in 2014, the first update to that code in 18 years. She argues that transparency can rebuild trust with an increasingly skeptical public and showcase a news outlet’s legitimacy and worth.

So when you see hyperlinks to transcripts, or a sentence like “could not be reached for comment,” or a sidebar on the story behind the story, that’s reporters telling you what they know and, just as importantly, what they don’t know. And if, as we learned in our lecture, you’re making an effort to follow a news story over time, you can continue to assess what blind spots remain or become clearer as the coverage unfolds. Then, it’s up to you to weigh the evidence and decide for yourself if the report is credible.