People want quality journalism but delivered in a more compelling way, says Edelman's latest update

As someone who has been dragging himself to Edelman's annual #TrustBarometer briefings on cold January mornings for nigh on a decade, the 2018 report, launched yesterday, proved intriguing. Dare I say it, even uplifting.

Edelman's Trust barometer gives us some reasons to be cheerful, whether you work in journalism or comms, argues Danny Rogers
Edelman's Trust barometer gives us some reasons to be cheerful, whether you work in journalism or comms, argues Danny Rogers
Yes we did hear that trust continues to languish in our valued democratic institutions (the rather clichéd ‘crisis of trust’ - overall trust in government, media, business, even NGOs lies well below 40 per cent). 

But – for the first time more than ten years – there was a significant uplift in trust for something I’ve tried to base my own career around: quality journalism. 

It could also augur well for professional communications.

So amid the usual tales of misery, suspicion and societal polarisation, only accelerated by Donald Trump and Brexit, the Trust Barometer reported that 61 per cent of Britons now trust traditional media (broadcasters and publishers) as a source for general news and information. 

That’s the highest level since 2012, and 13 percentage points ahead of 2017.

Just as surprisingly social media, which has long acted as both boost and bête noire to traditional journalism, is experiencing a marked downturn in its seemingly relentless upward curve of acceptability.

Only 24 per cent of Britons now say they "trust social media", while the figure for search engines declined by seven points to 47 per cent. 

More than half of Britons (53 per cent) worry about being exposed to fake news on social media.

While it’s unlikely you’ll be switching off your social media feeds any time soon – although your teenage kids might be; one in ten 16-18 year olds are shunning social, apparently – there has been a major cultural shift.

The barrage of negative stories about Facebook and other social media behemoths over the past year – from their inability to take down child abuse or pro-terrorist content, to loss of control of advertising inventory – has combined with schools and parents growing concern over the dangers of children using social media.

And then of course there’s the alleged abuse of social media by foreign governments seeking to affect the US presidential election or the Brexit referendum. 

Although unproven as yet, this mud has clearly stuck.

At the launch yesterday Janine Gibson, editor of Buzzfeed, even went as far as to suggest Facebook and Google were "facing their own Uber moments", referring to the crisis of confidence in the ride-hailing brand last year following corporate scandals and fears over passenger safety. 

The upshot is that trust in the peer-to-peer content innovations that have dominated the media landscape for more than a decade, is beginning to implode.

Danny Rogers, editor-in-chief, PRWeek
Gibson correctly points out that the social media firms are having the same trouble claiming they "are not publishers and therefore not responsible for their content" as Uber has faced when claiming it "doesn’t employ drivers".

The upshot is that trust in the peer-to-peer content innovations that have dominated the media landscape for more than a decade, is beginning to implode. 

A development that was highlighted by last week’s story of so-called blogger (blagger?) Elle Darby who was outed for her rather blunt methods of trying to secure a free hotel stay in Dublin, and potentially a poster-child of a growing disdain for many self-proclaimed ‘influencers’.

Edelman’s global CEO Richard Edelman, who has been warning for as long as I can remember about the growing trust of ‘a person like me’ at the expense of expert media, now believes this trend "is reversing because people are yearning for credible information and facts."

And this trend applies across the Western world.

Which brings us back to good old journalism and other ‘experts’ that have so fallen out of favour of late. Indeed, the subscription numbers for many quality media brands are looking healthy on the back of this resurgence.

In the US, the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and CNN are enjoying something of a renaissance. This side of the pond, The Financial Times’ subs figures are buoyant and The Times is claiming significant success.

The 2018 Trust Barometer says trust even in non-media experts, such as academics and CEOs of organisations (plus 14 per cent) was also up significantly suggesting that communications professionals can be just as encouraged as we journalists.

This is not to say that this bright new horizon for quality editorial and comms does not feature the odd cloud.

Richard Edelman also points out that in the US this media trust thing is highly "bifurcated"; with a big increase in trust in media among people who voted for Hillary Clinton in the last election (up to 61 per cent) but much lower levels displayed by Donald Trump voters (only 25 per cent trust the media), whom Edelman says "tend to view the quality media as elitist and politicised".

The overall message then is that the population yearns for credible, fact-driven, professionally-sourced information, which encouragingly plays into the hands of the quality media.

Danny Rogers, editor-in-chief, PRWeek

And in the UK, not even those in the so-called elitist bubble seem particularly passionate towards quality media.

The most depressing statistic was that only six per cent of Britons now consider themselves to be "well informed" ie. heavy consumers of political and business news - down from 11 per cent last year – mainly because they find it "depressing" or driven by a "hidden agenda".

The overall message then is that the population yearns for credible, fact-driven, professionally-sourced information, which encouragingly plays into the hands of the quality media.

But the big challenge for these media – to truly emerge from a long winter - is to deliver this content in a more compelling, upbeat way; to protect their independence of thought and take pride therein.

Danny Rogers

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