Has social media increased trust in mainstream news?

In Communication, Organizational Communication - Assignment on March 20, 2012 at 6:45 pm

It’s not news that American news consumers don’t think much of the media’s news reporting. I’ve seen a number of studies and they all hover around 20% trust in the news. That’s a whopping 80% who say they don’t have much trust. Those numbers were confirmed by a study commissioned by Craig Newmark of craigslist fame and published on his site craigconnects.org. The survey results are neatly presented in this infographic published on that site.

The answer–by more than 2 to 1 the respondents said social media has a negative impact on news coverage. 17% said positive, 34% said negative impact. I find that fascinating and would love to understand the reasons why so many think it is negative.

An even more important and interesting question asked of the 1001 and survey respondents was what factors do they consider most important in news coverage. Here’s the summary:

– Speed (first to report the story) 6%
– Free 8%
– In-depth analysis 23%
– trustworthy 49%

The remaining percentage was refused to respond or don’t know.

I have a feeling this is one of those survey questions where people’s behavior doesn’t match the way they answer the question. If that were the case, only truly responsible news outlets would be getting the audience. The fact is, ratings show that other factors are critically important including speed, emotional content, compelling story telling, striking visuals, etc. As much as I am critical of today’s news coverage (as any frequent reader here will recognize) the people running these channels are not dumb–they are giving people what they want.

Trust is somewhat of a slippery concept as we can see in the extreme partisanship of news coverage. Where some would say they trust Sean Hannity others would say they trust Rachel Maddow. Trust has an awful lot to do with our starting point, not some sort of objective measurement to which we can all essentially agree. The fact that the study shows greater trust in mainstream media among Democrats than Republicans may simply be an indication that the mainstream media for a long time has been more aligned with Democratic ideas and values than that Dems are inherently more trusting than Republicans.

Before I go wandering off into politics here, let’s bring this back to crisis communication. The opportunity here is huge for those who understand that increasingly they are the broadcaster. That means the inherent lack of trust in media, and in social media, can work to the advantage of official communicators BUT only if their organization and leaders understand that nothing is more important than protecting their credibility. That means being completely and unflinchingly honest. It means that telling everything is as important as telling the truth in what you do tell. That’s where it gets hard, but trust is built when you willingly and openly disclose the ugly truth, even when–no, especially when, it really hurts.


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