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How the media can rebuild trust

Trust in the media

Surveys show that the British media is one of the least trusted in Europe and audiences, as a result, are less likely to read and engage with the news. However, there have been some signs of recovery. During Covid and at the start of the Russia/Ukraine war, newspapers and news broadcasters saw an increase in readership/viewers as people felt these were the best places to get trusted and reliable news from. 

So, how can the media continue to rebuild this trust and win the audience back? At the Media Freedom Conference, a panel of journalists and experts discussed what is being done right now and the other measures that organistions can take to ensure the public have a trusted and reliable media industry to turn to. 

Find all the top tips and advice from the Society of Editors event in our round-up here. 

  1. Involving the audience more 

The news can often be formulaic. If you tune in to watch a news broadcast, then it will most often follow the pattern of the headlines followed by more general news and then the sport and the weather. You might get some vox-pops from the public during a news item to hear their thoughts on a certain issue, but otherwise there isn’t much opportunity for the audience to get involved. 

Sarah Whitehead, deputy head of newsgathering at Sky News, said that they used to be like this in that they were there just to inform their viewers of the news. However, in recent years, they have decided to open up more to the audience by doing an increasing amount of Q and As. They will get an expert in, for example, on the cost-of-living crisis, and ask viewers to get their questions in so they can be answered live on air later on. This allows the reader to get involved and feel part of the news story and the conversation and tell their truth at the same time. It also creates more engagement as they will get in contact via social media, and they can alert them to other issues and stories. 

2. Better representation  

Diversity within the newsroom has been improving in recent years but Abbianca Makoni, a freelance journalist, feels that when it comes to trust then change starts at home and organisations need to consider what they are doing in their newsrooms. They need to ensure that women journalists and minority journalists feel as though they are not just a token, and that they are actually involved in the stories and steering the direction of them. 

Rizwana Hamid, director of the Centre for Media Monitoring, backed this up by saying that the trust won’t be there with the audience if they are misrepresented. If the staffing isn’t representative of the population then the content won’t be either as you aren’t allowing different perspectives into your content. The Centre for Media Monitoring has found that 60% of the coverage of Muslims and Islam in the media is negative and a third misrepresents and generalises Muslims. This creates the idea of ‘others’ and in turn, creates distrust. The media therefore need to be avoiding this and working to make sure that represent all communities and minorities in the best way they can – both in the workforce and through the content. 

3. Locally focused 

The idea of representing communities better leads nicely onto the next way to rebuild trust – by having more of a local focus. Abbianca believes that there is more trust in local reporters, especially from young people. This is due to the fact they see them around on a more regular basis or they might come into their school or interview someone they know. This then helps build trust as they know the reporter cares about the community and wants to report on local issues, rather than a national journalist just coming in for an exclusive. Therefore, they want to see more collaboration between national and local press. 

Sarah added onto this by saying how Sky News are making a big effort to cover stories from across the UK with journalists that are embedded in their communities. She feels that all the big broadcasters and newspapers are making these efforts now to make sure they have reporters that really understand what is going on in that community or region. The best way to do that is by them having a permanent base there. 

4. Engaging with the regulations

The main reason for the loss of trust in the media arguably came as a result of the News International phone hacking scandal which began back in 2005. This rumbled on until 2011 and in the Leveson Inquiry in 2012, resulted in the formation of a new independent body to regulate the newspaper and magazine industry after the Press Complaints Commission was heavily criticised for its lack of action around the scandal.  

The Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) was established as a result of this in September 2014. Charlotte Dewar, chief executive of IPSO, said that journalists need to engage and make sense of what is on their website and that they, as an organisation, need to make sure that it is both relevant and accessible so they can digest it. 

Charlotte also believes that journalists are held to account more today than ever before. As well as IPSO, there is also IMPRESS (which was set up back in 2015) and the broadcast news channels have Ofcom regulating them. She thinks that journalists value being held to account and they don’t want to get things wrong and want to represent the community in the best way they can. However, there has to be a willingness, both from journalists and news providers, to learn and change if they want to have that trust from the British public. 

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