Posted At: October 24, 2012 1:50 P.M.
by Sam Nathews
We plan, write, edit, re-write, proofread and edit obsessively to ensure our news releases and other media materials are creative, concise, informative and attractive.
We labor for hours crafting a two-sentence pitch we hope will land our client on the targeted publication’s front page rather than in a reporter’s trash bin, but could a relatively recent trend threaten to prove that a wasted effort?
Perhaps. The American public’s trust in the mass news media is eroding at an alarming rate, and this growing distrust could prove problematic for the public relations industry.
Darron Moffatt, communications manager for The Century Council, reasoned that in addition to other factors, social media might be one of the causes for this growing distrust toward the media in the eyes of the American public.
“Traditional media is being challenged by social media platforms because people want to consume their news directly and without thinking that it is going through a ‘filter’ that will bias the objectivity,” Moffatt said. “They need to have independent news — no quote approval on the part of their reporters, just facts.”
This could present a tremendous challenge to those of us in the PR field who trade in the currency of information. For PR practitioners, the news media serves as more than just a supercharged vehicle that carries our message from the conference room to the living room. It has long been used by the PR industry as one of the most expedient means of gaining third-party endorsements, positioning clients as experts and establishing a client’s credibility.
The erosion of trust is like a virus. It is contagious and has the potential to affect those who come into contact with its host. So how do we avoid getting sick?
Moffatt said one possible anecdote actually lies in what could be a driving force behind this rapidly deteriorating trust in the news media: social media.
“I think we are seeing much more social media (Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, etc.) as ways for PR teams to reach their audience,” Moffatt said. “If you can reach a group of people directly, it removes the need for the traditional media sources that are losing the public’s trust.”
Though Moffatt said that it is not necessary for organizations to toss their media relations strategies aside and shred the communication plans just yet, he also stressed the importance of companies becoming fluent in the language of social media — and to harness its power immediately.
“I think this [growing distrust in the news media] is definitely something that is going to come down the line and present a much larger complication to traditional media and will be a challenge for companies and their PR teams,” Moffatt said. “What I do see right now is, like I mentioned before, a move toward social media — taking your message directly to the source instead of through the filters of traditional media. For right now, however, the media is still a critically important component of a PR strategy.”
Moffatt could prove himself a prophet. A future in which traditional media gives way to new media and third-party endorsements are found on a friend’s Facebook page rather than a news outlet’s front page does appear forthcoming.
But, a world void of the “middle man” with a growing emphasis on social media could place added pressure on the shoulders of PR practitioners to establish and build an organization’s credibility — especially since the information would be unfiltered.
However, we’re not there yet.
Brad Phillips, author of the Mr. Media Training Blog (www.MrMediaTraining.com), the world’s most-visited media training website, uncovered a diamond from beneath the rubble of the public’s crumbling trust.
“Recent polling has made it obvious that public trust in the media is eroding significantly,” Phillips said. “And although that means many Americans are less likely to trust a news organization as a whole, I haven’t seen any evidence to suggest they don’t trust the experts who are quoted within the news stories published by those outlets. If some people distrust the Wall Street Journal, for example, I haven’t seen evidence that they don’t trust a business analyst quoted within one of their articles.”
Phillips went on to emphasize the importance of a holistic approach —one that encompasses the use of both traditional and new media — to distributing a message.
“Still, good media relations demands a variety of techniques — so companies should continue to speak with the increasingly less trusted mainstream media as they use their own social media (and other) channels to communicate directly with their audiences,” Phillips said.
Inevitably, circumstances will change and the landscape of the public relations industry will continue to evolve, just as it has since its inception.
When asked if and how news outlets should address this growing distrust, Moffatt said, “I think just like anything, you have to adapt to the changing marketplace.”
Those of us in the PR field would be wise to follow suit.