Trust Fall


As Americans grow more skeptical of news outlets, communicators need to earn the trust of their audience.

Americans have trust issues – with their news. The Associated Press reported on a new survey from Media Insight Project, which found that “just 6 percent of people say they have a lot of confidence in the media.” That’s “about equal to Congress and well below the public’s view of other institutions” – and a worrying sign for news outlets.

This trust gap is not unique to the news media. Americans are increasingly skeptical of large institutions, from organized religion to police. At 6 percent, however, the depth of distrust is startling – and another hurdle for a beleaguered industry.

Why so low? Readers feel they’ve been burned. As the AP relays, “about 4 in 10 say they can remember a specific incident that eroded their confidence in the media, most often one that dealt with accuracy or a perception that it was one-sided.”

In the increasingly accelerated race to publish first, some big news breaks have fallen victim to emphasizing fast over facts. The AP cites misreporting around big stories ranging from “the Supreme Court’s 2012 ruling on President Barack Obama’s health care law to the Boston Marathon bombing.”

So for companies, organizations or coalitions who rely on the media to tell their story, what does this mean? Mind the gap. The distance between what the news media says and what the American public trusts isn’t a gully – it’s a gulf. And so, communicators can no longer rely on the strength of an outlet’s brand to serve as a validator for their message, particularly as audiences question the credibility of an increasing number of news outlets.

Even on social media – where Americans are increasingly turning for news and information – only 12 percent of Facebook users and 18 percent of Twitter users have “a lot of trust in the news information they see.”

Communicators have to go above and beyond to skirt that skepticism and connect with readers. How? The AP said the survey shows that readers are looking for both balance and transparency. Telling a well-rounded story and being open about reporting – or story telling – is important. For communicators, that means quoting the source when citing statistics and even addressing the opposition when putting forward a solution. It also means always citing an outlet or writer when sharing someone else’s reporting.

While communicating through traditional media channels is likely to remain essential to most external communications campaigns, this growing distrust of news sources also underscores the importance of cultivating channels that allow you to communicate directly with your audience. That’s why Blue Engine works closely with clients to develop unique digital tools to enhance their ability to deliver a message directly to their audience.

This survey shows when communicating through news and social media, expect a skeptical audience. Even if the information is good, Americans won’t just take your word for it. Trust me.