Trust in media is low worldwide. Are media outlets reaching out to the wrong people?
It has become an article of faith among editors and reporters that they need to come up with strategic efforts to build reader trust. However, a report late last year from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford offers a sobering caution:
Few efforts to build reader trust have reached beyond existing readers and likely subscribers to the truly skeptical.
I asked Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, director of the institute, whether this should be read as pessimism about the entire trust effort of the last several years. “I would say realism,” he said. “Even if the truth is not entirely welcome … we need to be clear-eyed about the incentives (at play).”
Right now, those incentives turn out to be foremost retaining subscribers or broadcast audiences, often paired with adding a new paid digital base, according to the report. That means “few individual news organizations have clear incentives for investing in building trust with indifferent, skeptical, or outright hostile parts of the public.” In addition, few of the organizations with trust-building initiatives “can point to systematic efforts for tracking their effectiveness.”