For TV News, Rebuilding Trust Is Core Imperative For Election Year

E.W. Scripps CEO Adam Symson and NewsNation anchor Connell McShane told a NewsTECHForum audience Tuesday that TV news needs a more durable model based on more consistent community engagement and more room for conversation and discovery around subjects. (Image: Symson, left, and McShane)

For years, local television station executives have cited studies that found local TV news to be consumers’ most trusted news source. But as the country’s political divisions have widened, mistrust in all media has grown. It’s imperative that station groups’ news operations recapture and grow that trust, said E.W. Scripps Co. President and CEO Adam Symson during TVNewsCheck’s NewsTECHForum event in New York City on Tuesday.

To do that, Symson is putting more reporters back into the communities Scripps’ stations serve, even the smallest ones like Helena, Mont., or Lafayette, La. Earlier this year, Scripps started hiring more reporters in those communities and paying them more. At the same time, Scripps has scaled back on positions like anchors and capturing live shots just for the sake of being on the scene. The result is more resources going to reporting and less into production, especially in those smaller markets.

Adam Symson

“When you decide that you need to change things in order to create a more durable model, particularly in our smaller markets, you make a decision that you’re going to essentially try to change the entirety of what it is we are known for,” Symson said. “What that’s led us to do in our smaller markets is reprioritize reporting and deprioritize what I would consider the performative aspects of our business.”

One of the main reasons Symson has made the decision to do that is to increase viewer trust.

“If you go out and speak to those consumers, those audiences that are on the edges of our markets, and you listen to what they say, they don’t trust us because we’re not there for them,” Symson said. “I think our obligation to rebuild trust is to get back into the communities where those people live and to cover their lives, not just when there’s a quadruple homicide, but when there’s a real issue at stake. We have to have some humble pie about where we are today and recognize that we are responsible for creating this dynamic and that we can get ourselves out of it.”


Besides its local news operations, Scripps also operates nationally distributed Scripps News (formerly Newsy), so some of the content produced on the local level can trickle up to the national news network.

The issue of trust also is an issue for national news services, such as Nexstar’s upstart NewsNation, which launched in March 2021. NewsNation’s mission is to provide unbiased news to consumers in all parts of the country, not just in the major media centers.

For NewsNation anchor Connell McShane, who spent years as a financial reporter with Bloomberg and then Fox Business Network, building trust with viewers is still about the basic journalistic principle of putting in the time and the work.

Connell McShane

“There’s not much credibility or trust if you don’t have a lot of knowledge of the subject matter,” he said. “You have to put the work in so over time you build up that credibility, that trust with the audience.”

In both cases, the emphasis is on building long-term relationships with viewers and with communities. That’s something that’s long been a hallmark of local TV stations.

While the panelists largely agreed that the polarized nature of cable news contributes to a media environment of mistrust, they said having more time on air can allow for more conversation and discovery around issues – depending on how that time is used. That can ultimately help build trust.

“There is this advantage that you do have time to talk literally about everything or anything that you want to do,” McShane said. “If you have 10 hours a week just on our show, you should be able to have a lot of different discussions, a lot of variety. Are we perfect? Of course not. Do we fall into some of the traps that other people do? I’m sure, sometimes, but I think there is also that advantage.”

As Scripps is working to beef up reporting across all of its 61 stations in 41 markets, it has its eye on artificial intelligence (AI). While AI offers technology that can be helpful in the newsgathering process, it also potentially creates many more ways to confuse and disillusion news consumers.

“Anything that could in any way call into question the validity of our reporting and create a scenario where consumers aren’t quite sure whether it’s real or not, is problematic,” Symson said.

To avoid that problem, Scripps is developing an online trust center ahead of the 2024 election where consumers can go to verify what has and has not been originally produced by Scripps.

“I’m very concerned about the prospect of the use of AI to damage our brands and inadvertently exacerbate that trust problem,” Symson said.

McShane sees the potential danger in AI as well, but he also sees the potential benefit. “I’m generally very excited when new technology comes into our industry and want to be one of the first ones to use it,” he said. “What I’m concerned about obviously is technology that can do our job for us.”

That said, both men also see the upside of AI. “There will be significant opportunities to leverage AI that brings efficiency to news operations and maybe alleviates some of the pressure on the newsroom from an economic perspective,” Symson said. “So, this is not an all bad story, we just have to be thoughtful about how we use it.”

Finally, news consumers – and particularly students and young adults – need to be educated on how to consume news and information, Symson and McShane agreed.

Scripps partners with the non-profit, non-partisan News Literacy Project, which started News Literacy week, to bring more transparency and education to the news process. NLP has developed a curriculum that goes into middle and junior high schools to teach media literacy.

“We are graduating kids into the most complex content ecosystem ever to exist, with none of the skills necessary to be able to understand what is propaganda, what is journalism, what is a press release,” Symson said.

Part of it remains just doing journalism the old-fashioned way, McShane said. “If you’re in a position where you can do a good job every day, as simple as it sounds, over time people start to trust that guy with the news. And when you have a whole organization of men and women that people trust with the news, you build up media literacy that way.”

Read more coverage of NewsTECHForum 2023 here.

Watch this session and all the NewsTECHForum 2023 videos here.

Comments (4)

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BeyondTheBeltway says:

December 14, 2023 at 9:28 am

Distrust of news is healthy. Reporting on hyper local news does nothing to create trust. It is a gimmick to create the illusion of caring and credibility. Try hiring reporters who aren’t part of the left wing media cult. Diversity of political opinions in reporting is the only solution. Stop doing the thinking for your viewers. Stop insulting their intelligence. Let them figure it out. TV news is intellectually boring.

TrueBroadcasterGO1965 says:

December 14, 2023 at 10:35 am

100% agree with Beyond the Beltway. I’ve seen Mr. McShane on NewsNation and he does a really good job. They’ve also turned Cuomo into someone who has a moderate view and not extreme talking points from either side of the aisle. Media distrust started going down hill when newspaper editorials spent so much time in a room deciding who they’d endorse, what a joke. Let American’s make up their own minds, they all live differently than a reporter.

Former Producer says:

December 14, 2023 at 3:38 pm

Let’s also not forget that Scripps is saving money in all of this. Yes, the company is hiring more MMJs to cover news and paying them more money to do so. However, Scripps is eliminating a number of news anchor and general manager positions, and is cutting back on production by using pre-recorded news in markets as large as Tampa. That’s money saved! No highly-paid news anchor to sit on set. No highly-paid general manager to sit behind a desk. No need to pay overtime to overworked producers and directors in order to get a newscast on the air.

It could also be a way for Scripps to eventually attract prospective buyers. Yes, as far as I know, Scripps is NOT for sale. But it’s common for companies to cut costs and say, “Hey, potential buyer, our balance sheet shows lower operating costs and higher revenue. How about some merger and acquisition activity?” I worked for a now-defunct broadcaster that used the same strategy.

Scripps deserves credit for at least trying something different. But this is as much — if not more — about money as it is about viewer trust. says:

December 14, 2023 at 11:38 pm

Scripps is being cheap and is just spin with community with more MMJs on the streets seen a promo about not reporting on crime with the youth on Fox17 I haven’t seen the results still reporting on crime if it bleeds it leads. Local news plays in the middle for the most part better than cable news that are just in tribal camps.