Opinion

How to Keep Trust in Media on Track

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There’s no doubt this last year has been a whirlwind for many. From protecting ourselves through the pandemic, to getting ourselves signed up for the vaccine program and preparing for lockdown restrictions lifting; many of us have relied on the media and its reporting of these global issues to understand and help us navigate these choppy waters. With such an intense situation, it’s no wonder that trust in the media has now more than ever come under sustained scrutiny by the general public. Not to mention the impact of misinformation running rife across social media channels creating confusion and casting a shadow of doubt in the public’s mind about news sources.

However, the Reuters Institute 2021 Digital News Report was full of surprises, and appears to show that trust in media is finally turning a corner, increasing  6 percent points to 44 percent. This is surprising considering it has been generally reported that public trust in news outlets was at an all-time low.

But, while this research is encouraging, news outlets still have a limited timeframe to address ongoing issues around impartial reporting and ensure journalists continue to deliver truthful news to the general public. Therefore, at this critical moment, we need to ensure we keep trust in media on track. Here are my five tips on how we can do this:

Listen to what audiences want

To reinforce this level of trust we must listen to what audiences want: 74 percent of audiences polled stated they prefer news that reflects a range of views and lets them decide what to think. A majority also think that news outlets should try to be neutral on every issue. The Reuters report also found, social justice issues are important to some—particularly younger groups—and journalism still needs a commitment to society as a whole.

Interview the right experts

Putting experts, like academics, forward to speak credibly on their subjects is critical. Unfortunately, some news outlets are still not getting this right. It's not unusual to see “non-experts” delving into an analysis of a subject which is nothing more than their personal opinion on a particular subject. GB News, for example, talked to the Daily Mail’s Scottish political editor about Scottish football supporters coming to Wembley. But why didn’t they talk to an actual fan or an expert in football and fandom? This situation can worsen the more controversial or extreme a subject is. Overall, not interviewing the right experts has the potential to communicate misleading views which may even be misinterpreted as the  “truth.”

Ensure stories are grounded in facts and stats

Facts are a critical component for truthful storytelling. Therefore, it’s important that facts and stats are the centre of a narrative, which is then brought to life by commentary from academics and other credible experts.

Deliver a wide range of views in a relatable way

As a news source, you are catering for a wide range of demographics. You need to report on a range of views, from social justice to climate change, politics, healthcare and more, to satisfy different interests. Audiences also want news sources to talk to them in a manner they can relate to, which is authoritative but not condescending. That often means just speaking plainly and avoiding off-putting jargon.

Responsible reporting of extremist views

If we’re to honor the true commitment of impartial reporting, we need to ask the question, how do we address the reporting of extreme views that may fuel misinformation? And who are we to decide which views to report on? Well, it’s simply down to ensuring every story and every view is grounded in solid facts and stats and we speak to the right experts. This is critical. Now more than ever speculation is not an option. By not reporting controversial views that are speculative and with no substance, we can avoid spreading extremist ideas and views.

Is this enough to stay on track?

While we can feel cautiously optimistic following the slight increase in trust, this is still a critical moment. As an industry, we need to make sure we stay on the right track to build on this level of trust and regain the confidence and respect of the general public. To do this, we need to come together and ensure we listen to our audience. Controversial headlines, biased viewpoints and stories with no data substance are not an option. Only then can we deliver what our audiences want, increase their trust levels, and ensure we stay on the right track.

Jo Adetunji is the managing editor at The Conversation UK.

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