Building trust in media brands in the age of social and algorithms

Building trust in media brands

This article on building trust in media brands is part of a series exploring the key themes in new technology for media brands from the Web Summit 2017.  Read about all the themes here.

The furore over fake news on social media and its influence on political change has sharpened the focus on which media brands to trust.  Several high profile newspapers have built resources in investigative journalism (but bringing new digital tools to bear) to enhance their reputation for independence and accuracy.  The debate on the value of human curation versus algorithms is still fiercely raging.

So how can news media brands encourage a fickle online audience to trust their reporting?

News sources are fragmenting

In the last six years, cable TV in the US has lost 30% of its under 35 audience.  TV is now more a medium for older age groups.  Millennials expect the news to come to them via social media.  They are however, more likely to delve into the detail on a story, and less likely to accept a broadbrush generalisation.

Filter bubbles are nothing new

Traditional media always had political allegiances, and were instinctive supporters of the establishment, creating their own “bias” not so very different from the social filter bubble that is currently causing concern.

Established news media are upping their investigative journalism

The New York Times and Washington Post have increased the number of reporters on investigative stories, using multiple sources, and social platforms, to research stories that challenge government and engage their audience.  Their intention is to build trust in the news brand and its fact based objectivity.

Digital subscription growth demonstrates value of objective reporting

Both the New York Times and the Washington Post have seen strong growth in digital paid subscriptions, an encouraging sign that readers do value the investment they have made in investigative journalism.

Social algorithms pose a risk to discovery of quality content

As news media become more dependent on Facebook and other social platforms to drive traffic to their news, the risk of major unilateral changes to algorithms by the platforms becomes greater.


Media brands need to try to work more closely with the big platforms to learn from their data and ensure that editorially important stories aren’t buried while more trivial populist items gain prominence.  Within media organisations, journalists and techies need a closer dialogue, so that internal algorithms reflect editorial priorities.

The list of journalistic values in the image above, shared by Mike McCue of Flipboard in this talk, is a good summary of how to build trust in news media, and add moral values to algorithms:

1.    truth and accuracy

2.    independence

3.    fairness and impartiality

4.    humanity

5.    accountability

What I know about You and Media

Flipboard's Mike McCue:Years before "fake news" became epidemic, Flipboard provided reliable, curated news to millions of users. Today, reaching 100 million visitors, it is one of the world's biggest platforms for content referrals. Drawing on a wealth of user data, the founder of Flipboard sheds insights on how news surfing makes people feel.

Posted by Web Summit on Thursday, 9 November 2017


So as content discovery moves to social platforms, especially for younger generations, media organisations must engage with the big platforms over how algorithms evolve, and invest in quality journalism to strengthen readers’ trust in their brands.

If you’d like to discuss how you might build trust in your media brand, please get in touch: I’d be happy to chat over the phone or over a coffee.

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About the author:

Carolyn Morgan has over twenty years experience launching, growing, buying and selling specialist media businesses across print, digital and live events. Carolyn now advises publishers large and small on their digital strategy and writes and speaks on digital publishing strategy.

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