What do people really mean when they say they do not trust the news media? And what can news organizations do to restore trust where it is deserved
Increasingly, the public trust in the media has eroded.
How is the media viewed in today’s plugged-in, fast-paced, COVID-induced world?
Earlier this year, the Reuters Institute held a series of focus group discussions and interviews with cross-sections of people in four countries – Brazil, India, the United Kingdom and the U.S. – to learn more about the way people think about trust in today’s journalism. It was a good snapshot in what the public disliked, what was trustworthy and untrustworthy about news and why.
Despite considerable differences in the media environments in each country, the focus groups revealed a great deal of common ground between people in how they thought about and expressed concerns about trust and the news media in their respective countries.
Here are key findings from the report:
- Familiarity with brands and their reputations offline often shaped how people thought about news content online as well. Across all four countries, when people described what led them to trust or distrust news organizations, many used the term as a kind of shorthand for news sources they were familiar with and their sense of a given brand’s reputation (good or bad). Conversations about trust would often lead to more general impressions about things people either liked or disliked about news media, which suggests the boundaries between a news source that is ‘trusted’ and a news source that is simply ‘likeable’ are often blurry. Brands can be cues for trust, but also for distrust. Both more trusting and less trusting individuals tended to articulate trust in this way.
- Editorial processes and practices of journalism were rarely central to how people thought about trust. Only a small number in each country expressed confidence in their understanding of how journalism works or the decision-making and newsgathering processes that shape how the news is made. Instead, many focused on more stylistic factors or qualities concerning the presentation of news as more tangible signals of perceived quality or reliability.
- The work of individual journalists, in contrast to presenters on television, was often far less visible, and many of the prominent media personalities who stood out to people were often polarizing figures. When people spoke of individual journalists, it was often specific to outspoken personalities and opinion writers, even if they also made a point of saying they preferred impartial news that focused on facts rather than opinions. Many had an easier time naming presenters and commentators they disagreed with than highlighting the work of individual reporters or editors whose judgement and track record of reporting they respected. A considerable number in Brazil, the U.K., and the U.S. could not name any journalists at all.
- Perceptions of bias and hidden agendas in news coverage were prevalent, but what people meant often reflected differences in their own political or social identities. Objectivity, impartiality, and balance in news coverage were frequently invoked in all four countries as values associated with trustworthy journalism. While many criticized specific news brands or entire modes of news as being too driven by commercial or partisan interests or both, others were frustrated by the distorted ways they felt particular groups in society were portrayed – whether ignored entirely, demeaned, or consistently overemphasized. A belief that the news was ‘controlled’ by various forces led many to adopt a more generalized form of skepticism and resignation about whether any news source could be counted on for accurate information.
- Few cited the COVID-19 pandemic as a factor in how they evaluated the trustworthiness of news sources. While many raised concerns about health-related misinformation they had encountered or referred to news about the pandemic as being emotionally taxing, the pandemic itself did not seem to alter many pre-existing views about news media.
- Most had low trust in information they saw on platforms, but judgement of individual news outlets often depended on how strongly people already felt toward the brands they encountered there. Many valued the convenience of getting news via social media, search engines, or messaging services, but finding news there was generally a secondary consideration for why they used these platforms – even something they tended to avoid. For audiences without existing preferences (positive or negative) about news organizations in their country, making sense of the abundance of information online could be challenging or overwhelming. Because many perceived digital media as places awash in unreliable, divisive, and even dangerous information, there are clear trade-offs involved for news organizations that seek to appear in such venues in order to attract and engage with new audiences.
Tarnished Mic: Oscar Loses His Luster
Oscar has fallen off his pedestal. Lost his shine. Stepped out of the spotlight!
After months of diminishing TV audiences, darkened movie theaters and the advent of streaming blockbusters, Hollywood’s biggest night – the Academy Awards – saw Oscar fall flat on his gilded face.
While Sunday night’s hostless ceremony was a major victory for some in Hollywood, particularly actors and filmmakers of color, advertisers have been left to grapple with the worst-rated Academy Awards ever – just 9.85 million people tuned in to the ceremony, according to Nielsen’s early national returns.
The TV audience for the 2021 Oscars dropped 58% from 23.6 million viewers for last year’s show, which occurred weeks before the coronavirus pandemic halted live events and spurred stay-at-home orders across the country, according to Nielsen data released Monday.
While the Oscars has seen its ratings fall precipitously over the years, awards shows during the pandemic have been especially challenged in attracting viewers. Viewership for the Golden Globes, the largely virtual live telecast on NBC in early March, dropped more than 62% from a year earlier to 6.9 million.
This year’s Oscars was telecast from the Union Station in Los Angeles, with some parts of the show filmed at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, where the 93-year-old awards event is traditionally held. The venue was selected with the intent of preventing the Oscars – a typically crowded ceremony – from becoming a super-spreader event.
This year, the network was asking for about $2 million per 30 seconds of air time, according to media buyers familiar with the process. That’s a significant slide from last year, when ABC raked in between $2.4 and $2.6 million per 30-second spot.
The below-average Oscars projections did not dissuade advertisers, many of whom still agree on the value of culturally relevant tentpole programming – events that remain some of TV’s most-viewed individual shows, even during audience droughts. ABC announced days before the Oscars that it had sold out of commercial air time, thanks in part to an influx of first-time advertisers that gave it ad breaks of both stalwarts and newcomers in a parallel to this year’s Super Bowl.
The slate of nominees were led by films that appeared mostly on streaming services as theaters across the U.S. remained closed throughout much of 2020 due to Covid-19.
The night’s big winner, “Nomadland,” the film from Disney-owned studio Searchlight Pictures, was released on Hulu as well as in theaters. “Nomadland” picked up top awards such as best picture and best actress, as well as the best director category.
Chloé Zhao, the director of “Nomadland,” became the second woman, as well as the first Asian woman, to win the award.
Anthony Hopkins won the best actor award for his role in “The Father.” Hopkins’ win surprised many who expected the late actor Chadwick Boseman to receive the award posthumously after winning a Golden Globe for his performance in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.” The producers had even flipped the order of awards, ending with best actor instead of the usual best picture.
As we continue to emerge from the pandemic – and return to the theaters and a sense of normalcy – perhaps Oscar, too, will climb back onto his golden pedestal!
Each week, The Spin Cycle will bestow a Golden Mic Award to the person, group or company in the court of public opinion that best exemplifies the tenets of solid PR, marketing and advertising – and those who don’t. Stay tuned – and step-up to the mic! And remember … Amplify Your Brand!
» TODD SMITH is co-founder, president and chief executive officer of Deane | Smith, a full-service branding, PR, marketing and advertising firm with offices in Jackson. The firm – based in Nashville, Tenn. – is also affiliated with Mad Genius. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow him @spinsurgeon and like the ageny on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/deanesmithpartners, and join us on LinkedIn http://www.linkedin.com/company/deane-smith-&-partners.