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Plus Report - By Thomas Baekdal - March 2018

Publishers Need to Rethink How They Define Trust

There is a fascinating trend happening in the media industry right now around trust. With pressure from things like fake news, socially optimized noise (click-baits, low-end content etc.), and many other things, focusing on trust is becoming a very important element for publishers.

For instance, during the latest NewsRewired conference, we saw people like the immensely talented Maaike Goslinga and Jessica Best from De Correspondent discuss how they are using trust to drive subscriptions.

One of the key things they do is tell people if there is something they don't know:

One more lesson is that the more transparency, the better. Journalists at De Correspondent tell their audience about what they don't know, what the limitations of their work are.

For instance, the most famous example of this was back in 2016 when De Correspondent "told their readers they were not going to report on the 2016 Brussels bombing as it happened until they'll have something to say".

The outcome of this was a massive boost in subscribers and overall loyalty, because suddenly, instead of just adding more noise they created this deeply trusting relationship with their audience.

But De Correspondent isn't the only example of this. Another very interesting example is The Trust Project, which is a collaboration between The Economist, The Globe and Mail, the Independent Journal Review, Mic, Italy's La Repubblica and La Stampa, and The Washington Post ... as well as several tech partners including Google.

They are creating a set of transparency standards in order to create trust:

The Trust Project, a consortium of top news companies led by award-winning journalist Sally Lehrman, is developing transparency standards that help you easily assess the quality and credibility of journalism.

For instance, they found that adding trust indicators to articles would generally boost people's perception of each story, as reported by NiemanLab.

This is such an important focus, especially today where people have such a hard time distinguishing between fake news and actual journalism.

Focusing on trust is not a new thing. In fact, if you go to Google and search for "Trust is essential", you will find more than 5 million results about it.

The problem we see in the media is that the overall levels of trust are generally extremely low, often putting media in the same category as politicians and lobbyists.

This is really, really bad.

In fact, there is generally a very strong correlation between trust in media and trust of national governments throughout the world.

This is a terrible trend, because it indicates that we are not actually developing trust, but are rather just reflecting society as a whole. There is zero differentiation in the media around trust.

Or, to put it simply, we have not proven that we can be trusted at all, instead we are just 'neutral' in terms of trust in the things we write about. This illustrates that publishers do not understand what trust is.

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Thomas Baekdal

Founder, media analyst, author, and publisher. Follow on Twitter

"Thomas Baekdal is one of Scandinavia's most sought-after experts in the digitization of media companies. He has made ​​himself known for his analysis of how digitization has changed the way we consume media."
Swedish business magazine, Resumé


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