Lies, damned lies, and statistics: 5 Principles to build trust


Lies, damned lies, and statistics. The average reader does not know how to conduct statistical enquiry, analyze data in Excel or probably know what R and Python are. Instead, trust is put wholly in a belief that data journalists know what are they doing, and are doing it correctly.

Given that most audiences don’t have a technical know-how, data journalists have a particular duty of care. Audiences trust that data is representative, free from bias, and verified. They cannot necessarily fact check, and should not need to do so.

Yet, as we all know, this doesn’t always happen in practice. Bad data exists and there are many examples where it has been used in journalism. From misrepresenting margins of error in Bureau of Labor Statistics to producing confusing visualizations of fatalities data, mistakes happen. So, in light of this, how can data journalists maintain trust with their audiences?

At this week’s World News Congress in Cartagena, Marcelo Rech, President of the World Editors Forum, endorsed five principles that journalists can adopt in order to build trust and take journalism to the next level.

The principles are:

  1. In a world of hyper-information, credibility, independence, accuracy, professional ethics, transparency and pluralism are the values that will confirm a relationship of trust with the public.
  2. Next-level journalism is distinguished from other content by the vigilant and diligent questioning and verification of material circulating on social media. It acknowledges social media as a source of information for further fact-checking and as a platform for leveraging professional content.
  3. The mission of journalism at this next level is to positively serve society by providing high-quality verified information and to establish news brands as a trusted certificate of origin for content.
  4. A requirement of next-level journalism is that it goes beyond basic facts and enables and encourages analysis, contextual and investigative reporting, and informed expression of opinion, moving from the provision of news to knowledge that empowers.
  5. Next-level journalism should be driven by trust and the guiding principles of social relevance, legitimate interest and truthfulness.


These principles were also backed by Aidan White, Director of the Ethical Journalism Network, who argued that “their key role in repositioning journalism as a cornerstone of the new information landscape is urgently needed”.

Explore other outcomes from the World Editors Forum here.

Image: Siggi Churchill