At a time when readers' trust in the media keeps faltering, news organisations are starting to place more emphasis on transparency and the importance of explaining how and why they do their jobs.
Mid-March, The Washington Post launched a new Facebook group called PostThis, open to anyone interested in political reporting and holding the current US administration accountable.
The community is open to anyone, not just Washington Post subscribers, and the group of 2,833 members is administered by digital editor for national Terri Rupar, and comments editor Teddy Amenabar, who approve people's requests to join, moderate the comments and share stories to be discussed.
The organisation's reporters are encouraged to share their work in the group and stick around to answer questions readers might have about their stories.
We like knowing that this is a group of people who have expressly said that they're interested in accountability journalism and fact-checkingTerri Rupar, Washington Post
The guidelines of the group state that comments must stay on-topic and that the community is non-partisan, aiming to provide insights from Washington Post reporters on why, how and when they choose to follow up on stories and issues.
"We're still experimenting, trying different approaches and working on building our network within this group," Rupar told Journalism.co.uk, "but so far the experience has been really positive".
"We like knowing that this is a group of people who have expressly said that they're interested in accountability journalism and fact-checking, and that we can reach them directly."
The Post places a big emphasis on its online commenting strategy, where staff members are actively moderating and participating in conversations, and the comments section on the site has often been a source of inspiration for stories, for developing new communities or for launching digital features.
The outlet decided to launch PostThis as a Facebook group in order to "boost the signal" on certain stories published on the site, out of the hundreds of pieces of content produced daily, that "ticked that accountability and fact-checking rubric in a way that can be harder to do on the web at large".
The Post has mentioned the new community on its social channels, but the group has mostly grown organically, with more people joining after the outlet published a scoop.
"With groups, communities and networks, you kind of want to hit the right tone before you get too many people in, and I think we've been able to do that. The people who've joined [PostThis], have, for the most part, been really invested in the work and had really smart questions and comments."
For example, on 22 March, shortly after the group was created, Washington Post reporter Drew Harwell started a conversation about his recent reporting on the costs of Secret Service protection and other taxpayer-funded support for president Trump and his family. He explained how the story had moved forward due to some internal budget requests that they had come across, pointed out how that shaped the issue and encouraged people to ask questions in the comments.
His post got 28 shares, 78 likes and reactions, and 12 comments from readers asking Harwell how he had obtained the internal documents, and whether similar costs for past presidents were available.
With groups, communities and networks, you kind of want to hit the right tone before you get too many people inTerri Rupar, Washington Post
It's not just coverage about the administration that can be good material for PostThis – any political reporting that supports accountability journalism can be discussed.
On 18 April, Post reporter Caitlin Dewey, who writes about food policy, shared a story about dairy farmers in the US and their trade dispute with Canada. It got 14 likes, two shares and six comments, including questions about the topic and a comment from a reader thanking the journalist for "changing his thinking".
Stories are being shared in the group by reporters, by Rupar and Amenabar from their personal Facebook accounts, but also from the Washington Post account, as they are experimenting with what "feels right", Rupar said.
The conversation has mostly been productive, she added, but like with any online communities, there have been a couple of instances where people have not participated with thoughtful contributions.
"We shared an article over the weekend recently and I missed a comment that somebody had put up, that was not so constructive, so I deleted it and apologised to our community that it had been up for so long.
"I don't want people to see that and think that's the kind of conversation we want to have, so having a closed group allows us to remove people who refused to have productive conversations and keep it healthy for the rest of the readers.
"We're hoping to help people understand what accountability journalism and fact-checking mean, and how we think about what we report and why we report it."
Free daily newsletter
- Local or global, a virtual network of contributors improves newsroom resilience
- Washington Post uses TikTok to engage quarantined Gen Z audience
- Hazel Baker, head of UGC newsgathering at Reuters, on fighting covid-19 mis- and disinformation
- How to use social-native storytelling to break and cover news on Instagram
- US nonprofit The 19th wants to report on women and policies from a gender viewpoint