Jim Conaghan has me thinking about the concept of trust. He is the vice president of research and industry analysis at the Newspaper Association of America, and this week, writing for NetNewsCheck, he brought attention to current research on whether the public trusts the mainstream media.
The answer is somewhat mixed, though I think we would all agree that we could use a shot of credibility these days.
Here’s one aspect of his column I found fascinating. Quoting a study from the University of Haifa that looked at impressions of the media in 44 countries, Conaghan notes that people who look at mainstream media more often are more likely to trust what they read, see and hear. Why is that?
I suspect it is partly because those who spend the most time with us are likely to realize that, while we make mistakes from time to time, we are trustworthy on the whole. They see enough to know we are trying. …
If your shop is anything like mine, you periodically run across folks who say your newspaper is crap. “I don’t believe anything I read in that rag,” they’ll say. I’m always taken aback by that sort of thing because I know we try our level best to be fair and accurate. How can this guy not know that?
The answer is often that sometime back in the 1980s we screwed up his grandmother’s obit or wrote an opinion piece that rankled him or misspelled a friend’s name. And he hasn’t bothered with the newspaper since. In that context, it is easy to see why he doesn’t trust us. He hasn’t read us enough to know that we can be trusted to tell the truth the lion’s share of the time.
When we lose a reader’s trust due to our own malfeasance in some small way, we tend to lose that trust for a long, long time. When I can, I try to turn up the charm with these folks. I offer them a chance to comment on the opinion page. Sometimes I’ll ask if I can call them next time I need a particular expertise. You might even give them a trial subscription.
Trust is priceless and worth the effort.