I greeted this Gallup poll about the continued decline in trust in the news media with “meh.” Trust has been trending down for a while, and the clamor about media trust has been so loud for so long that it is hard to get excited about it. That feeling is clearly tempered by my experience as a newspaper editor. For years, I joined in the hand-wringing, trying a variety of things to stanch the bleedout. We included more “community news.” We solicited reader-generated content. We added folksy columnists. We engaged with people, using blogs, story comments and social media. We focused on being fair. We refined the voice of the paper.
While I believe they all improved the content of the paper, I have no sense that any of those efforts created more trust among readers. Trust, at least in this community, is hard to regain once it’s lost.
Forget the trust gap; focus on the disinterest gap.
The news media needs more focus on reporting stories that are just plain interesting and relevant. You might think that this would be a given for any news organization, but it’s clearly not. That sounds harsh, I know, but readers wouldn’t be turning away from newspapers so steadily if the stories were closer to being indispensable than indistinguishable. (And I say newspapers, but I include in that description all of the products that newspapers produce, including digital.) Imagine if every reader found at least one item in which he said “Wow! Listen to this.” or “Hey, did you read about the ….” Instead, it is too easy to scan the front pages of the papers and find little to read that is new or vital.
If I ran a news organization, I would post the details this report from the Pew Internet and American Life Project on every newsroom desk. I’m not sure if Greensboro, for instance, is considered urban or suburban so I include capsules of both.
“Urban residents: People who live in large cities rely on a wider combination of platforms for information than others and are more likely to get local news and information via a range of digital activities, including internet searches, Twitter, blogs and the websites of local TV stations and newspapers. Urbanites were also those least tied to their communities in terms of how long they lived in the community and how many people they know. They were the least interested of all groups in information about local taxes. At the same time, those who live in large cities, along with suburban residents, are the most likely to be digital “news participators” who email local stories to others, post material on social networking sites, comment on news stories online, or contribute to online discussions on message boards. Also along with suburbanites, they are more likely to get news via mobile devices. Additionally, they are the most likely to rely on local TV news for information about breaking news, weather, crime, politics, and traffic.
“Suburban residents: Those who live in suburban communities are more likely than others to rely on local radio as a platform (perhaps because of relatively longer commuting times); they are more interested than others in news and information about arts and cultural events; and they are particularly interested in local restaurants, traffic, and taxes. Like urbanites, they are heavy digital participators who comment and share the news. These suburban residents rely mainly on the internet for information about local restaurants, businesses, and jobs. They look to television news for weather and breaking news.”
What among these topics of interest can I create an interested community around? How can I make the content they are interested in interesting? How can I deliver it in the ways they want it vs. the way I have it?
None of this is particularly new, which is partly why I reacted to the trust survey with shrugged shoulders. I wouldn’t give up on trust, but I wouldn’t stress over it. My stress would be, with smaller staffs than ever, how am I going to regain the interest of readers?