OPINION: REBUILDING TRUST IN TRUTH
With a declining trust in news, public relations professionals have to work hard to influence the public in new ways, says Jason MacKenzie
These are precarious times for global media and professional communicators. You don’t have to look far for evidence of that claim. Google recently found itself the recipient of a record-breaking £2.1bn fine by the EU for favouring its own shopping service in search results. Facebook and Google face accusations of creating a ‘duopoly,’ governing digital advertising and gatekeeping content across the world. All the while, the president of the United States continues to lambast criticism with cries of “fake news.” Make no mistake, the media model in 2017 is bruised and battered.
It is little surprise therefore, to see trust in media and news at an all-time low. According to the 2017 Reuters’ Digital News Report, less than half of the global population (43%) trust the media and almost a third (29%) avoid the news.
It wasn’t always this way.
Take the Sun’s relationship with British general elections as an example. In 1992, the newspaper famously declared its impact on the Conservative election victory with the headline ‘It’s the Sun wot won it.’ In 1997, the paper successfully backed Tony Blair’s Labour Party while in 2015, it returned its support to the Conservatives with the notorious ‘Save our bacon’ headline beside an image of Ed Miliband awkwardly consuming a bacon sandwich. The Sun enjoyed a strong record of influencing the popular vote during election campaigns. That changed in 2017. While the Sun did support the election-winning Conservatives, the unexpected loss of the party’s majority showed the power of traditional press in election campaigns is waning. The shift in power is emblematic of the wider distrust in news and media Reuters outlined.
The trust vacuum has led to individuals seeking out and receiving news that fits exclusively with their preexisting beliefs. The prevalence of echo chambers on social media platforms is well documented, but how do we progress beyond our existing paradigm?
Communicating facts alone is not enough. People are often unwilling to accept facts that contradict their preexisting convictions – particularly when they are accustomed to sharing information with others whose worldview fits neatly with their own.
Compelling stories – rooted in truth – trump facts. Information needs an emotional appeal to resonate. Therein lies the responsibility of the modern public relations professional. As purveyors of influence, we have both the power and responsibility to construct the narratives that convince people to consider other points of view.
This tremendous challenge is not for the fainthearted. As a communicator, you need to equip yourself with a strategic mindset and ensure your skills and knowledge are up-to-date. Our industry can no longer afford to adopt a fair-weather attitude to professionalism.
The good news is there is a community of ethically competent, professional PR practitioners who are poisedto meet these challenges. They are committed to Continuing Professional Development (CPD) and employ a rigorous approach to measurement and evaluation. And they are growing in size.
Last year – for the first time – more than 2,000 CIPR members completed CPD and earlier this year the CIPR recorded its highest member retention rate (81%) in more than five years. Whether it’s through qualifications, training or networking, our members recognise the value in being part of this movement.
The scale of the challenges facing our profession are vast – none more so than the decline in media trust. But if we’re to tackle to these challenges and others, we need a rigorously professional workforce committed to the highest standards of practice. If you’re not already a member, I’d urge you to join us.
Jason MacKenzie is the president of the CIPR