Posts Tagged ‘trust’

Trust in news media continuing its slide–Gallup

August 16, 2010

The latest Gallup results continue the trend in declining confidence in our primary sources of news–newspapers and TV. Actually, I say primary and that is not so much the case any more as the switch to Internet as the primary source continues apace. Now, you would think wouldn’t you that with the growing presence of the Internet as a source of information, that trust in newspapers and TV would grow. After all, they have the professional journalists where few non-print or TV news sites do, they have their journalistic credibility and reputations at stake, and as everyone knows “you can’t believe what you read on the Internet.”

So, why is it that our trust in the media continues to decline?

Let me pose two reasons. One is the dying myth of objectivity. The second is rooted in the competitive nature of media.

Those of us in the Walter Cronkite era, who believed (however falsely) in the myth of media objectivity feel betrayed. The extremes on all positions so evident in the cacophony of our media environment make it clear that no one is objective, all have view points. We tend to favor those who support our own viewpoint and believe them to the most “fair and balanced” but since all media are lumped into one pile in an assessment of trust, we look at all the others as untrustworthy. So we now clearly understand they have an agenda–their opponents make that clear. But for the most part they pretend they don’t and with a few exceptions, declare they don’t. If someone tells you they have important information but you know they have an agenda that supersedes them telling you the truth, will you trust them? It’s why I think in many ways we trust Internet content more. One value that has been clearly established is to reveal upfront our economic ties, conflicts, and agendas. If we don’t, holy cow, watch out. And that is a good thing. The mainstream media, again with some exceptions, clings to the myth of objectivity and trust is lost.

The other, is the competitive environment. I suggest that the competitive environment is their primary agenda. Sell ads or die. Simple as that. What do they need to do to sell ads. Beat the million other guys out there trying to do the same thing. Every day. How? By getting attention. How? By playing on fear, uncertainty and doubt. Wouldn’t it be great to have a warning message on all newspapers that says, “Warning–our primary purpose is to get you to read this so our advertisers will be happy. And we will do just about anything we can do get you to read it.”

Speaking of media warning labels, it’s not an original idea. Here’s a few other warning labels the media might consider.

So, how does the competitive pressure play out in actual news reports. I could take a hundred stories and lay them out, but why should I when the Onion did a perfect job of parodying today’s typical coverage.

Let’s look at a few features:

– word choice–greatest environment disaster, dangerous crude oil, black toxic petroleum, unforetold damage.

-bring in the expert — they got to have someone to quote. Credentials don’t matter as much as if the words they use (easily manipulated by a good reporter) fits the flow, gist and angle of the story. I couldn’t believe all the stories in the spill featuring “experts” who were miffed because they weren’t being taken seriously by BP.

– urgency — “time is of the essence” says the expert

— government calls for an investigation — of course, what else would they do? Need to start drafting legislation right now

–appalled elected official — what elected rep isn’t looking for an opportunity to appear in some news story where they can be the white knight riding to the public’s rescue. “Shocked and horrified.”  Hmm, sounds like Rep. Markey.

— citizen reaction — now don’t expect here some citizen to say “well I think the news reports are overblown.” No doubt they got that reaction, but that won’t get into the story.

– bad corporations — of course, there has to be a villain and so there is.

Well, of course the Onion story is a spoof, but if you compare their spoof with the stories about almost any major event like the spill, you will see definite patterns emerge. And the Onion pretty well nailed it.

Why don’t we trust the media? Because we want something they can’t seem to give us–and still survive. Wish I had an answer.


Rumor Management–Fake News is a tricky reality

February 16, 2010

Add this to the topic of rumor management–dealing with fake news, that is rumors that swirl around possible breaking news. Here’s an article that gives a compelling recent example. It’s now pretty much common understanding that the media, desperate for declining audiences on which their revenue is based, relies on immediacy to attract eyes on the screens (TV or internet). That’s why Cable and local TV channels now have an almost continuous heading of “Breaking News” overlaying their talking heads because they want to convince you it is happening right now, if you blink you will miss something critical and most important you won’t find something more immediate anyplace else. After all, what is more immediate than right now? That’s what I’ve been wondering for a while. How will they improve on right now? Well, the future. Seems pretty obvious now. The aforementioned article may just presage the style of news to come. “We’re working on a story right now that will blow your socks off, we can’t tell you what it is about, but here’s a little hint (salacious detail inserted here) and we can’t even confirm that we are doing a story, but…”

The concern for reputation managers and crisis managers is obvious. I’ve been saying for a while now that the job of crisis management has been changing from being the first source of the information (virtually impossible in all but invisible crises because citizen journalists and those with some info or opinion will almost always beat you with the story) to rumor management. Because when they beat you with the story and the info that you have and want to share, you have to make sure what they are saying is true and accurate. Rumor management means absolutely being on top of what is being said on the internet and responding very quickly and often very aggressively.

Perhaps now is a good time to once again bring up the issue of trust. This article further comments on the Edelman Trust Barometer which I’ve commented on here before but highlights some of the reasons why trust is such an issue. Here’s a quote:

The barometer also noted the credibility of TV dropped 23 points and radio news and newspapers were down 20 points between 2008 and 2010.

One needs only to look at cable news to see why — breaking news on CNN has a tendency to be gossip repeated on Twitter. The rumor mill has taken over journalism. Part of the reason for the increase in popularity of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert has been their willingness to say, “Can you believe the shit the mainstream media is shoveling?”

Three more examples of social media policies–Kodak, Intel, IBM

October 6, 2009

Social media policies are a big issue today. They are fraught with danger. One, because the culture of the internet demands transparency and openness to incredible degrees, but the culture also seems to celebrate anger, rudeness, crudeness, vulgarity and general disrespect. I blogged earlier here about Walmart’s Twitter policy. From Mashable, here are three examples of other major organizations with social media policies around transparency, moderation of comments, and the value of social media.

Some good news–trust in business is improving

August 3, 2009

Who knows, maybe Edelman’s trust barometer will prove to be an effective leading indicator of world economic conditions. Earlier they reported a dramatic drop in trust in business as well as government. Now they are reporting some significant improvements. The BBC has a summary on this showing the vast difference in trust between influencers in the US and those in India and China.

What are we to make of this improvement and this difference? First, on the difference it is hard for me to not draw a somewhat political conclusion. In both India and China the state has dominated the economy and people’s lives–China more so of course with a fully socialist system. Both of those nations have loosened the fetters on private enterprise and it is not surprising that this fact, combined with other important factors, has resulted in these two economies being the fastest growing and most dynamic on earth in the last while. Even now, China is surprising the world with a remarkable recovery from the global recession and posting significant GDP gains while most are still going backwards. The US on the other hand, is heading in the opposite direction. From a firm commitment to free enterprise and open markets, it is reacting to the collapse of the financial system and the credit markets by adopting government strictures and controls to a degree that seemed impossible to fathom even a year or two ago. Who would have thought that our president and Congress would be determing the CEOs of our largest corporations, thinking about passing laws that would determine executive pay, deciding which models of cars our factories would build and deciding on political bases of course which factories to keep open and which to close. It is unimaginable.

People have to put their trust in something, in someone. When strong controlling governments haven’t delivered the prosperity and hope that people in India and China long for, they have put more trust in business. When our trust in business was dashed by the greed, dishonesty and rapacious behavior not just of the Bernie Madoffs but in the heads of respected banks, insurance companies and manufacturers, we have tended to put our hope in government. But that hope and trust is being tested as well–and as confidence in governments ability to provide for all our hopes and needs without bankrupting us all and especially our children wanes, then perhaps some hope and trust in business will return.

I don’t know–what do you think is going on?

PRSA Podcast–crisisblogger discusses realities of instant news and social media world

March 2, 2009

Eric Schwartzman recorded an interview with me at the PRSA conference in Detroit in late October. I recently spotted it posted on the PRSA site. Here’s the link if you want to hear my basic spiel.

Neil Chapman on trust and the financial crisis

October 13, 2008

I’m very pleased to present a guest comment by a good friend, crisisblogger reader/commenter and a true crisis communication expert. Neil Chapman lives in London and is a top level communication manager for a global company. He sees the loss of trust in our major institutions as a major threat to communicators and CEOs concerned about building and maintaining trust for their organizations in these unsettling times:

Americans are angry at Wall Street over the financial crisis. Here’s a reaction from  the other side of the world – individuals who feel duped by banks in Singapore that sold them financial structured products they believed to be protected deposits. The story is told by The Online Citizen – a community of Singaporeans ( It brings the crisis down to the level of ordinary people.

If truth is the first victim of war  then trust must be one of the early victims of the current financial crisis. Trust in banks, trust in politicians  and, I would argue, trust in companies and the economic system in general. When people’s cynicism meters are in the red zone, it spills over into other areas. If that is happening then it is a long-term issue crisis communicators will have to deal with. The next time a corporate crisis impacts people because of someone’s greed or incompetence, I suspect you will see an even greater level of distrust and anger directed at  the managers who ‘were asleep at the wheel’, the regulators ‘who should have seen it coming’ and the politicians ‘ who once again failed to protect the ordinary citizen.’

I would argue that trust-building just got harder for all of us.


Does trust really matter?

July 31, 2008

I submitted a blog post to PRSA’s exciting new blog ComPRehension about the importance of trust.

Would love to hear from crisisblogger readers about the role of trust in an organization and the value placed on it by senior management.

Communication strategy for a transparent world

June 13, 2008

I am amazed at some of the discussions about communication strategy–even among top communicators at top level corporations and organizations. One question frequently is do we prepare a holding statement or do we issue a release? In other words, do we wait for the media to come to us to ask us questions or do we go public with our information anticipating media interest.

It certainly is a valid question when there is really no way for the media to be alerted to a situation. Even then, there are concerns about taking the reactive approach simply because being proactive sends such a powerful message of trust and transparency. However, I understand the reluctance. No one wants to be seen as seeking out negative coverage. But, what confounds me is when the event is highly visible and active media interest is all but assured because of what is physically visible to them. Still, there are those–most I would say–who deem it wiser to prepare a holding statement than a release.

A couple of comments and approaches. There is a difference between widespread distribution of a press release and posting the information publicly. In any situation of highly visible activity that is very certain to stimulate media interest it is almost always best in my mind to publicly communicate the information. The best way is to post it on a public newsroom site. It is not necessarily best to proactively distribute it via email. But when a reporter calls, it is valuable to be able to say, oh yes, we posted complete information about this activity on our website two hours ago. That sends a powerful message. We are not hiding, we are not hoping you won’t notice or you have a busy newsday, we just treat this kind of information as normal communication with an interested public.

Related to this decision about going public or not, being proactive vs reactive, is the subject of how much to put in the holding statement. Those reticent types who want to use holding statements are also frequently of the mind to minimize the information. Don’t give them anything but the bare minimum. Just tell them how much we care about everybody and don’t give any facts. I think that is BS. Does that contribute to trust and confidence? Whenever possible I try to anticipate any and all questions that reporters may ask and have information available in advance to answer those. Whenever possible I try to put as much as I can in a Holding Statement for the same reason–built trust and confidence. But some things simply don’t belong there. And when probing reporters do ask the sticky questions, to be able to provide a detailed Q&A, FAQ or Fact Sheet that addresses all those plus probably others they haven’t thought of is pretty powerful. It’s also a great way to minimize reporter traffic in a crisis. After all, they want the information–all the information–they don’t necessarily want to talk to you. Giving it to them in dribs and drabs and minimizing it simply encourages reporters to dig deeper and deeper, but now with the strong sense that you are hiding things and therefore have things to hide. Blood on the water to a good reporter.

The moral (and economic) value of saying you’re sorry

May 21, 2008

I’ve always believed when you screw up you should say you’re sorry. Forgiveness is usually generously given in light of a completely sincere acceptance of responsibility and repentance. When I ran for state senate in 2004 one of my key goals was to improve access to doctors in our state by working to change the medical malpractice legal system, and one policy I wanted to work hard to implement was the ability for doctors and hospitals to say they are sorry without such a statement being held against them legally. Such measures are in place in states like Colorado I believe and have been proven to be effective in reducing lawsuits and associated costs.

This article from New York Times suggests that this message is getting around–slowly and over the objections of trial attorneys. Here is strong evidence of the economic value of saying your sorry. Trial lawyers as a group would be well advised to change their tune and support this effort if they do not want to be perceived as caring only about their ability to take cases to court and win big settlements.

But there is more than economic value at stake here–there is moral value as well. How would you feel as a doctor knowing you had made a big mistake and caused a lot of pain and cost to the patient. Your sorrow in making that mistake would be compounded many times over by having to follow the policy of denial and defense. Yet that is the position we have put doctors and hospital administrators in. Repentance is cathartic, healing and restorative–especially when accompanied by forgiveness on the other end. We have been preventing those in the caring professions from experiencing this because–sorry I have to say this, because of trial lawyers’ greed.

The lesson for CEOs and crisis communicators ought to be clear. Your lawyer’s understandable first instinct when something seriously has gone wrong and your organization is responsible is to deny and defend. But if people or the public good has been harmed, the very best approach is to admit responsibility, communicate sorrow and regret, demonstrate you are painfully aware of the pain this has caused others, explain how you will do better, and ask for forgiveness. It’s good for your soul. It’s the best thing for your organization’s reputation and trust level. And, as this article demonstrates, it’s likely to best for your bottom line too.