MEDIA TRAINING: TRUST IN MEDIA DROPS TO NEW LOW
As a public relations professional who conducts media training workshops and works with the media on a regular basis, I am always intrigued with the public’s perception of the media. For instance, do people believe everything they read in the newspaper or view on TV? According to a recent Gallup poll, some do, but more don’t.
Trust in newspapers, according to the poll, has fallen to 23 percent, down from 25 percent in 2012 and 28 percent in 2011. According to the poll, confidence in the media peaked in 1979 with a high of 51 percent. That confidence has been steadily eroding ever since.
With the onset of social media, streaming and other technologies, the public has hundreds, if not thousands, of news and media outlets competing for their attention. This onslaught of choice means that today’s journalists are valiantly struggling to get your attention. Drama and conflict sell newspapers and attracts TV viewers. Unfortunately, the pressures of today’s media complex compel some journalists to focus more on alleged improprieties and scandals than the mundane world of earnings, facts and success stories.
Understanding the Media Through Media Training
I do a lot of media training of key leaders in companies and organizations throughout the Carolinas. One of the first topics we tackle in media training is entitled “Understanding the Media.” I believe that the more one understands the pressures that reporters face and the way that they look at the world, the better equipped you are to communicate with them more effectively.
Although I know that all journalists are not made from the same mold, I do think that most see themselves as watchdogs on our government and corporate America. They are often skeptical of corporate America and feel it is their job to protect the public and disadvantaged from corporate and government wrongdoings. In a free, capitalist society such as ours, watchdog journalists are critically important to ensure both business and corporations are kept in check and held accountable to their constituents and the general public.
It is also important that corporate spokespeople make themselves available to the media when appropriate to answer questions, confirm or deny rumors and educate journalists about their business. Many spokespeople are reluctant to speak with reporters due to an inherent distrust based on a bad prior experience in which they were misquoted, quoted out of context or pilloried.
Business people don’t trust reporters. Reporters don’t trust business people. The reality is that both sides are to blame for this standoff. In today’s 24/7 media world, business leaders need to engage in media training to learn how to interact with the media and adopt realistic expectations for media coverage. The media need to do a better job of understanding corporate America and the constraints that competitors, regulators and shareholders place on owners’ ability and willingness to divulge sensitive information to reporters.
Most journalists are smart, hardworking and try to be fair. Unfortunately, some let their zeal hamper their better judgment and are too quick to inject their own bias and mistrust of corporations into the story. Although the resulting story may be technically correct, it lacks balance and credibility because it does not tell the full story, quotes sources out of context and purposefully withholds opposing views other than those that support the author’s original premise.
Just like journalists, most business people are smart, hardworking and try to be fair. Unfortunately, some let their fear of the media, reluctance to face adversaries and fear of litigation dictate their communication strategy (or lack thereof). The result is that key audiences, including the media, believe the corporation has something to hide, is unfeeling and uncooperative, and not trustworthy.
Media Training: Both Journalists and Business People Have Much to Learn
Journalist and business people have much to learn from each other. A seasoned PR professional has an important role to play in bridging the gap and educating both parties through media training. Greater communication engenders greater trust.
Some additional highlights from the Gallup poll include:
- Trust in newspapers has steadily declined since its 1979 high of 51 percent
- Trust in TV news tied that of newspapers, with 23 percent saying they trust TV news sources. This is down from a 1993 high of 46 percent–when Gallup first began asking about it.
- Liberals trust newspapers more than conservatives.
- Conservatives’ confidence in newspapers, at 15%, is down from 21% in 2012 and 2011.
- Moderates’ confidence has been trending downward for the past two years, and is now at 25%.
- Liberals remain the most confident in newspapers, with 31% putting a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in them this year.
- Liberals also are more trusting of TV news at 26 percent; moderates at 24 percent and conservatives at 18 percent.
- Democrats are most confident in newspapers, at 33%, while independents are less so, at 19%, and Republicans, at 16%, are least confident.
- Women trust all news sources more than men
- Educated people trust the news less than the uneducated
- Regardless of class, education, or party affiliation, trust in the news is below 31 percent in every case