Trust: Journalism's new business model

Despite a difficult recent past for journalists - from fake news and misinformation campaigns, to shrinking budgets and newsrooms - a recent Cision report has revealed public trust is recovering

Latest research from Cision’s 2019 Global State of the Media report shows that despite members of the press grappling with personal attacks, accusations of ‘fake news’ and the rapid spread of misinformation - public trust might actually be on the rise.

This is welcome news with journalists still feeling the backlash of 2011’s phone hacking scandal and the Leveson Inquiry in 2012. And with economic and social uncertainty driving a fragmented, dynamic media environment, the role of PR has never been more critical – communication professionals now have a unique opportunity to help rebuild the trust between clients and their media counterparts.

The report’s findings show that journalists are now prioritising accuracy and making more data-driven decisions around content, with 51% saying ‘ensuring accuracy’ is more important to their publication than ever. And with greater access to demographic data, journalists are using analytics to create more impactful stories that resonate more with their target audience.

The increased scrutiny has had an interesting impact on engagement, too, with readers paying more attention to the content journalists produce and the value they provide. It’s clear that the purpose of journalism has not changed, but it has evolved – and reporting the truth is vital to remaining credible. Indeed, trust has now become a business model.

The results are promising, for the second year in a row the UK has reported a decrease in the public's distrust of the media; 63% of respondents felt the public lost trust this year, which is down from 71% in 2018 and 91% in 2017.  

PR is a valued partner

As journalists struggle with resource limitations, PR professionals will continue to be a valuable partner. In 2018, Cision asked respondents how their relationships with PR professionals had changed during the year, and only 9% said their relationships with PRs had become more valuable. This year, the number jumped to 27%. While the journalist-to-PR-professional relationship has improved, there is still room for improvement. To cultivate a valuable relationship, it is important for PR professionals to provide trustworthy, relevant and useful content.

When asked what type of content they want to receive from brands, 71% of journalists still said news announcements and press releases (which has been the top answer for the past four years). Invitations to events and original research reports came a close second. For non-branded content, journalists equally trust interviews, industry experts, and newswires (for press release distribution). So despite being more than a century old, the well-written, properly targeted press release continues to be a valuable resource.

If the press release is king, relevance is the kingdom. While journalists face a shortage of resources, they don’t face a scarcity of leads. Unfortunately, journalists say the vast majority of pitches they receive are useless. In fact, 75% say fewer than a quarter of the pitches they receive are relevant. This year, the results highlight that PR professionals overlook, ignore, or simply do not understand the target audience of the writer they’re contacting.

If there’s one thing that PR professionals can do to help journalists do their jobs better, it’s to better understand a publication’s audience and what they find interesting.

When asked how PR professionals can write more effective press releases, journalists universally agree that press releases should include more information that is relevant to their target audience. They also recommended including a clear news hook and avoiding industry and marketing jargon.

It’s more important than ever to write for the end consumer and content should be tailored for target audiences – 65% of journalists would rather receive customised press releases than one mass-audience release. Delivering more relevant pitches has a long-lasting impact. As one respondent, said: "If you haven’t taken a few minutes to understand what our publication covers, I’m less likely to open your next email."

Journalists are contending with fewer resources and a host of challenges, including receiving more PR pitches than ever. Yet, in spite of, and maybe even because of, these challenges, there are several signs that trust in the media may finally be on the rise. Journalists and PR professionals both work in the storytelling business and should work together to be valuable partners given the increasing challenges facing the industry as a whole.

In short, to be a useful partner to journalists, PR professionals must provide new information, back it up with interesting data, high-res images, and expert sources – and always understand who your target audience is.

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