Trust is a curious virtue. The English writer Graham Greene wrote in his novel The Ministry of Fear, “But it is impossible to go through life without trust; that is to be imprisoned in the worst cell of all, oneself.” Most people are not so imprisoned, and have a substantial web of trusted connections both personal and societal.
You might get a different impression from reading a recent report. A widely-circulated Gallup poll on trust in media in June reported that 22 percent of the public has a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in newspapers for news, with television at 19 percent and the Internet at 18 percent. This tracking poll further noted that levels of confidence across the board have declined fairly steadily over the decade. The Gallup report concludes, “How these platforms can restore confidence with the American public is not clear, especially as editorial standards change and most outlets lack the broad reach once available to major newspapers and broadcasters.”
No doubt the report engendered a Pavlovian reaction of hand wringing, navel-gazing and woe-is-us wailing among media followers. Unsurprisingly, there are other data that point to a different conclusion.
Nielsen Media Research conducted a survey for NAA in early 2013 on consumer engagement with media. The study, which sampled 5,000 adults, examined 11 different metrics for engagement, including elements such as trust, public service and advertising efficacy. When asked whether different media “are trustworthy,” for instance, 56 percent attributed that quality to newspapers (print and online). National print newspapers ranked first (58 percent), followed by local print newspapers (56 percent), national newspaper websites (56 percent), local radio news (56 percent), and local newspaper websites (55 percent). Most media sources were above the 50 percent level, with blogs and social networks trailing lower.
Consumers trust media sources not only for news, but also for advertising content. A different Nielsen study, Global Trust in Advertising and Brand Messages, conducted worldwide in 2013 with more than 29,000 respondents across 58 countries, revealed that in North America, 61 percent of respondents trusted newspaper advertising. In fact, a slightly higher number — 65 percent — indicated they took some action as a result of seeing the ad.