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Lifting the veil: We want to be transparent about how The Bee creates its journalism

The Fresno Bee newsroom, photographed Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2018 in Fresno.
The Fresno Bee newsroom, photographed Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2018 in Fresno. Fresno Bee file

As editor of The Fresno Bee, I get to see up close the dedication our journalists have to their craft. Every day, they seek the truth by asking sometimes difficult questions, and then verifying the information they receive. They work hard to get the story right – and when we fall short, we correct our work.

But journalists – myself included – don’t do a good enough job of explaining the “how” and “why” of what we do. In informal conversations I have every day, many readers seem baffled by the process of journalism. Others seem to think that every decision we make is politically motivated. It isn’t, but it’s fair to say that we need to do a better job of explaining why it isn’t.

I want to lift the veil. We can be much more transparent and open about what we do, how we do it and why we do it. The processes we use to report the news are developed to engender your trust. But the problem is you don’t really know much about how we go about our work, or why you should trust what we do. That’s on us. We have to do a better job of explaining how news is made.

We know that because you told us. Since early this year, The Bee has been engaged in a project with Arizona State University’s News Co/Lab, part of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. As part of this project, and with the additional collaboration of the Center for Media Engagement at the University of Texas at Austin, we conducted a survey of our audience.

The survey took a deep dive into how our community understands journalism and how it views how The Bee does its job, both positive and negative. On the positive side, The Bee’s audience does not associate “local news” with the word “fake.” Conversely, the survey found that less than three-quarters of respondents could correctly choose the fake headline when shown a list of real and fake headlines. Participants also thought it was easy to tell the difference between news and opinion content, but only half could correctly spot a news story when compared to an opinion piece, analysis or sponsored content. That misunderstanding is on us. We need to do a better job of making clear those distinctions when we present our stories and editorials.

The Bee believes transparency and engagement – which we define as deeper conversations and collaboration with the people and institutions of our community – are important ways to help a community understand how news and journalism work, and why it matters. You are an important part of the news ecosystem. You can play a role in making it stronger and more engaging. We want to help you do that.

The first place we’re embedding transparency and engagement into our journalism is a topic of overwhelming importance right now: this fall’s elections. But elections coverage is just a start. We plan to do this throughout our newsroom. We’ll learn from what we do during the campaign, and extend it more broadly.

We’ve already begun:

  • Our Devin Nunes profile story contains a box that highlights reporter Rory Appleton’s work on the story. How many sources were contacted? Who agreed to be interviewed? Who didn’t? How much archival research was conducted? The answers to these questions provide context into how the story was reported – and makes the process more transparent. This is highly relevant information for you, and we will do this often.

  • We’re adding biographical information about reporters on stories. You’ll see that on the Nunes piece, and more broadly in the newsroom soon.

  • And we’re creating a “Frequently Asked Questions” (FAQ) list for The Bee’s political coverage. This will be a living document where readers can ask questions and expect answers. Again, we plan to expand the FAQ to give you more insight into what we do throughout the newsroom.

Our transparency and engagement won’t stop there. Among other things in the works, we’ll help convene a broad and deep conversation about our city’s north-south divide. And we’re working on other ideas. These initiatives are a journey, not a destination.

As we proceed, we’ll be working with community groups to broaden these conversations. We expect to collaborate with, among others, the recently created Institute for Media and Public Trust at Fresno State, public libraries and other local organizations that want to help improve the community’s information ecosystem.

We don’t assume we have all the answers. We do believe that if we all work together, we can make a difference. We need your ideas. Help us fill in our blind spots.

We strongly believe that the work we do at The Bee is essential to the central San Joaquin Valley. We are proud of the journalism we deliver. It’s work that helps right wrongs and shines light on important issues.

We also know we can always improve, and that the best way to make that happen is with your help. We want to build more trust between the community and the journalists in The Bee’s newsroom, in part through these new transparency and engagement initiatives. Let us know how we’re doing, and how we can do better.

Joe Kieta has served as editor of The Fresno Bee since February. He previously served as editor of The Modesto Bee and the Merced Sun-Star and two other daily newspapers. He has spent nearly 20 years in the central San Joaquin Valley and is a native of suburban Cleveland. He can be reached at 559-441-6307; Twitter: @josephkieta
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