Live from London::Which Media Do You Trust?

    by Mark Glaser
    May 3, 2006

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    LONDON — I am your on-the-scene correspondent this week from London, where I am currently in a BBC TV studio listening to various people discuss citizen journalism at the We Media Forum. The conference bills itself thusly: “No ordinary conference, We Media is about how we create a better-informed society by collaborating with one another.”

    The big news early on from the conference came from a 10-nation survey by GlobeScan about how people trust various types of media. Here are some top-line findings from the survey of 10,000+ people in the U.S., U.K., Brazil, Egypt, Germany, India, Indonesia, Nigeria, and Russia:

    • Overall, 61% of people trust media, while only 52% trust governments. In the U.S., 67% trust government while 59% trust media; and in the U.K., 51% trust government while 47% trust media.
    • Of news sources, national TV was the most trusted at 82%, followed by national/regional newspapers (75%), local newspapers (69%), public radio (67%), satellite TV (56%) and blogs came up last with 25% trusting them.
    • On the question of what was the most “important” news source, people chose TV most (56%), followed by newspapers (21%), Internet (9%) and radio (9%).
    • 28% of people surveyed said they abandoned a news source in the past year because they didn’t trust the content.

    After the data was officially released, there was a panel discussion on the topic of trust, and much talk about how media outlets earn (and lose) trust. But one question I had was about the people who were surveyed: What media do they actually see and use regularly?


    My gut feeling is that people were judging types of media that they trust not from having used those media, but just from their perception of them. Especially with blogs, where 25% said they trusted blogs, 23% said they didn’t trust them, and more than half didn’t even have an opinion about them. So I have to wonder how valuable a survey about trust is when people are giving their view on trusting sources they’ve never or rarely seen.

    Moreover, people come up with their perceptions on blogs from coverage in the mainstream media — which usually simplifies everything to “blogs are changing the world” or “blogs have none of the great fact-checking of mainstream media, so they have no credibility.”

    While those points might be true, the trustworthiness of blogs depends on each blog, who is writing it and how much trust the blogger has built with its audience. So whether blogs (or TV or newspapers…) are trustworthy depends on many factors.


    On the panel, David Schlesinger of Reuters said, “The medium isn’t the message; the message is the message.”

    In other words, people decide on what they trust on a case-by-case basis, so one particular story or blog post might be trusted and another might be tossed aside. The worst thing about the survey is that it overgeneralizes each type of media. People might say, “I don’t trust TV news” or “I don’t trust blogs,” but what they really mean is “I don’t trust that story from CNN” or “I don’t trust a particular blogger because I saw some dodgy material.”

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    I talked to Gary Kebbel (pictured) here at the conference, who’s the journalism initiatives programs officer for the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Kebbel and I discussed some of the weaknesses of the survey and its generalization of the way people trust entire platforms of news.

    “Trust is situational,” Kebbel said. “Technology is a tool, and you can’t remove it from its social context as they are doing in this survey. When people think about blogs, they see them as a big cacophony, so it’s not surprising that they would say they don’t trust them.”

    Kebbel and Knight will be hosting the next We Media conference next February in Miami Beach. Hopefully by then, the Media Center will have a new survey that delves down below the generalizations of trust in media.

    Do you find yourself trusting or not trusting entire media platforms, and how do you reach those decisions? Or is it more of a case-by-case situation? Share your thoughts in comments below.

    Also, if you’d like me to pursue a particular story or person here at the We Media Forum, please drop me a note via the Feedback Form or through the comments below.

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    Here’s actor/activist Richard Dreyfuss asking a question at the We Media conference. You can see more photos from the We Media Forum via Flickr here.

    UPDATE: Later in the day, social software consultant Suw Charman stood up and made similar complaints about the survey. “There are 50 million blogs,” Charman said. “You can’t say if you trust blogs in a blanket way. There are individual bloggers who I trust, and I get to know what they do more than I know journalists. The idea of trust in blogs vs. trust in media is daft.”

    • Personally, I trust media platforms on a case-by-case basis. For example, when I read the state newspaper back home, I can trust that most news are reported fairly and accurately, but I must also remember that it is very pro-government and there may be other issues “deliberately” left out of the story. Do I then discredit the entire newspaper? No, I cannot because the story IS true, but it is up to me to find out the back story from other alternative forms of news, such as blogs.

      For blogs, I hold a discernment that is more obvious and critical. Blogs are really opinion sites but there are some blogs that are too opinionated that whatever they’re talking about becomes absurd. I tend to trust blogs that are written by people with some kind or relevant experience in the area they are passionate about. However, recently, a politician in my country was discredited during the electoral polls for fraud. Somehow, though he has publicly apologised, I can’t help but feel that I have to read even more carefully whatever he writes in the blog now and not take everything hook, line and sinker.

      Perhaps this will herald in good news for us readers. At least we won’t be the stupid public anymore, swallowing all that we read and hear. If we participate more in the news by looking around for more sources to back up the credibility of what we’re reading, we’ll be the INFORMED rather than the UNINITIATED.

    • I have gone through a remarkable change in the last few years on how I use the media. There was time I would rush out to buy the national newspapers. Now, I rarely do that. I simply read the online versions. I accept that they are not the same, but I find them much more convenient. And I can easily shift across the globe, from ‘The Guardian’ in London to ‘The Los Angeles Times’ in California.

      The big change is giving up television, and replacing it almost totally by the internet. I find the internet very easy to come up with very diverse and informative articles, always supported appropriate visuals. It readily allows you to compare news and sources, and I do find that very enlightening. And I do use all possibles, sites from television, newspapers, blogs, etc. I particularly welcome the video format which is fast becoming the norm on the internet.

      Privately, I produce a few blogs of my own to amuse myself, and others who are interested. My website -www.cactusplus.co.uk – I use to demonstrate my interest in plants. I have great respect to individuals offering opinions. It is never either or; it is always as well as. Not surprisingly, I am always open to information whatever the sources, or format. I suspend judgement till the end. I am convinced that that is much more healthier attitude to take when dealing with the media today.

      London, Eng.

    • Back in the early 1800’s, the newspaper media was generally privately owned (My opinion based on books I’ve read). They were interested in getting what limited information they received out to their readers. However, frequently the owner was also the reporter and editor. Thus, much of the information was tinted with the owner’s viewpoint. If a competitor opened in the same area, it could get brutal in their attacks on each other and facts be hanged.
      The mid to late 1800’s saw a shift in motivation for the media. It became about numbers. Circulation was all important and superceded the accuracy of the story. Write whatever you think will sell. As long as it has a thread of truth in it the rest can be made up around that thread to get the sales.
      In the early to mid 1900’s Honor and Accuracy were the driving points for the media as they tried to shed the Yellow Journalism reputation. They would hold a story an additional day if needed to get the story straight and counted on the public to be content to wait for their paper because they could get the “real story”.
      Into the 60’s and 70’s, the rapidness with which information could be delivered took over. People wanted answers and wanted it now. We heard a story on the radio or television as it was happening and rushed home to get the paper to get the whole story. In the rush to get the information out quickly, a few mistakes were made and the public didn’t bite the media for it as long as they were close.
      Somewhere along in the 80’s, the media begin to realize they had a strong influence on the public opinion. This, combined with the public acceptance of less than pure journalism (from 60’s and 70’s) and the media has focused more on the agenda of causes they support. This has caused them to twist or taint or omit certain facts that don’t conform to the agenda they are pushing. Look at stories that do get covered and how a similar story about someone/something they are supporting may not be covered with the same intensity.
      Blogs, Internet stories, talk radio, etc. are typically have an agenda or at least a viewpoint by their very nature. You can count on the information to be slanted but to what degree?
      All in all, who I trust is myself. I have to collect the facts that are presented or omitted and apply human nature to the story discussed. Then I ask myself, “What really makes sense here?”
      But that’s just my opinion. Do you trust me?

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