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.”
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.
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.”