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“These are the new fundamentals, the things you have to master,” Tom Rosenstiel, executive director of the American Press Institute said during a Monday morning session at mediaXchange 2016. “They reflect your values and competence as much as the stories you choose to cover.”
Or, as one focus group participant put it, “if it takes me two minutes to get to the actual article… you’ve already lost me.”
Rosenstiel and Trevor Tompson, vice president at The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, presented findings from research intended to bring an understanding of reader trust into the 21st century. One key takeaway is that trust is a business imperative, as users are more likely to use—and pay for—media they perceive as trustworthy.
“People who put a higher premium on trust are more willing to engage with and pay for a news source,” Tompson said.
Engendering trust means acknowledging the value readers place on mobile access, navigable sites and speed. Intrusive advertising, in particular, creates new tensions for publishers, Rosenstiel said. “As screens get smaller, advertisers are asking you to do more to get noticed. But if you cross the line, readers are going to say ‘you’re using me.’ This is something people are acutely aware of.”
While social media has become an important delivery system for news, trust remains a challenge—and an opportunity. Only 12 percent of Facebook users report high levels of trust in the news they see there. But with two-thirds of readers citing the original source of shared news as the most important indicator of trustworthiness, publishers should ensure their brands and logos are clearly visible when content is shared, speakers said.
“There’s a sense that social consumers are indiscriminate, bouncing and bumping into things without thinking,” Rosenstiel said. “This is the first data we’ve seen that this is not the case. Social is the new primary delivery system for so many of our audiences, particularly younger ones. This is an opportunity.”
While readers want content that is fair, accurate and comprehensive, they also value concision, timely information and in-depth stories, depending on the type of content. Women and younger people also place more emphasis on presentation, while African Americans and Hispanics are more likely to value seeing their communities in reporting. Four in 10 readers also can recall a specific incident that caused them to lose trust in a source; participants stressed the importance of acknowledging and correcting mistakes.
“This isn’t cookie-cutter,” Rosenstiel said. “Your newsrooms need to know what works for different kinds of topics, have common sense, and not be overly formulaic.”
Members of the News Media Alliance staff have contributed to this post.