No transaction without TRUST; no trust without evidence of VALUES –But WHOSE values…?

A quick review of recent news from around the world, confirms the 2012 Edelman Barometer's conclusions (25 countries, 30,000 persons surveyed), in regards to the remarkable loss of trust, respect and credibility, experienced by major institutions in the last few years –a crisis deep enough to negatively affect their maneuverability, and to obstruct their proper and efficient operation. 
Let's consider the case of communications media:  A 40% credibility rating in countries like the USA and Europe, where people traditionally <strong>trusted</strong> their primary media companies, amounts to nothing, regardless of whether other institutions are faring worse.

In this article, including both the Edelman Barometer video and the above-mentioned information corroborating its claims, we present our analysis of how trust was lost and can be recovered. …As long as the stakeholders allow the establishment of some limits to agendas --...for their own benefit!
Not doing this would kill the Digital Society in which we have invested so much, before it can even operate to its full potential.

Abstract

A quick review of recent news from around the world, confirms the 2012 Edelman Barometer’s conclusions (25 countries, 30,000 persons surveyed), in regards to the remarkable loss of trust, respect and credibility, experienced by major institutions in the last few years –a crisis deep enough to negatively affect their maneuverability, and to obstruct their proper and efficient operation.
Let’s consider the case of communications media: A 40% credibility rating in countries like the USA and Europe, where people traditionally trusted their primary media companies, amounts to nothing, regardless of whether other institutions are faring worse.

In this article, including both the Edelman Barometer video and the above-mentioned information corroborating its claims, we present our analysis of how trust was lost and can be recovered. …As long as the stakeholders allow the establishment of some limits to agendas –…for their own benefit!
Not doing this would kill the Digital Society in which we have invested so much, before it can even operate to its full potential.

Paper

1. The 2012 Trust Barometer [summary regarding Spain] [global summary in English] , the conclusions of which are presented in this video, shows a major drop in credibility and trust, towards almost all institutions, in practically all of the countries included in the study. That said, what’s new…?

Let us examine a few press headlines from the last three years, chosen at random, to understand what set off this crisis in trust, and the way it is affecting the media:

What are these headlines all about? About many institutions’ corruption, which has quite negatively affected their credibility, and therefore their efficiency, yes. But also: About the moral revolution that exploded in 1968 and intensified after 1995, that is reversing itself in a way that is both inevitable and profound.

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2. …And it is very important to bear this in mind in order to make viable decisions regarding all kinds of communications media contents. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. We’ll talk about this later, after having listened to the president of Edelman, presenting his conclusions regarding the global study on trust, 2012:

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Enjoy the  video that motivated this article (partial transcription  follows):


Edelman CEO’s conclusions merit a word-by-word transcription.

In order to save our readers time, we start our transcription at minute 2:28:

“Public relations-and-communications need to help restore trust. And in Edelman we are avid  students of trust, and ‘know that trust in certain institutions –now: certainly Government, but also business…, has recently reached historic lows. So there is the need for better communications and better engagement in terms of rebuilding trust. And in order to do that, we have to recognize that also the world has changed; that the trust doesn’t just rest in traditional institutions: It’s moved away from there. Authority’s been dispersed, [and] now rests with regular people, in the networks, amongst friends, and families, and coworkers… So we need to explain that the nature of trust has changed.

We have to help explain that, what’s important in life to many of the people that we survey, is not just about making money, but is also about doing good.

So we would argue that good business is about profits, …plus purpose [people discover it in our actions], plus engagement [the interest spurred in people by our purpose and actions].

And finally, we have to help companies realize that the media landscape has changed as well, as media is no longer constructed in the way it once was. You now have traditional media, you have hypermedia, you have social media, and you have company’s own owned media… And if companies can [wrap over…?] with that –understand there is (sic) four leaves in the traditional clover, they will be communicating better, and more powerfully, and with greater resonance.

The future scope of communications is to engage. But it has to engage on these principles I told you about earlier; so it has to be transparent. There is no room for spin any longer; there has to be a real openness, and accountability within business, about in-corporate communications, by one.

Point two: It has to embrace the social world. Now, it is not to say that “everything has to happen in the social media”, but social media is transforming business, and [we need] to understand [that] social business is important to corporate communications.

Third: It has to talk to regular people, it has to listen differently, it has to participate in the conversation, and it has to do that all the time; it can’t switch on, and switch off, at will or at random. It’s to do with being there the whole time, participating.

Fourth: It has to help move businesses from this whole [idea] of compliance –where compliance was “enough,” to “compliance is not enough”. It has to be about values: Real leadership principles need to be established.

And finally, it has to make sure that in the companies that it devices on, the communications is about policy as well as about communications, is about actions as well as words.”

Because only through doing this, will we be able to restore trust –we add.


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3. Until this point, it would appear that everything is clear and obvious. But it is not so.

If we listen closely to the president of Edelman, and we read the articles on its website, we are left with the impression that the values they are concerned about, regard political agendas, not those that the majority of citizens care about.

And this poses great challenges when trying to apply his conclusions. But to gain a better understanding, let’s do a little background history:

About a little more than fifteen years ago –around 1995-2000, when internet had just been born (1993)–, a large number of publishing and media conglomerates, reformulated their business models. Until that time, their “primary clients” –at least officially– had been their receivers (their readers, radio listeners, television viewers, movie audiences…). And the products they hoped would satisfy them, were the media’s own –ones which allow them to meet specific societal needs through news, stories, courses, songs, etc.

In response to political and economic groups’ intense pressure regarding contents, however, media redefined…:

Their receivers, as “secondary” clients.

And their advertisers, business partners, the authorities, political parties and activist groups

(the so-called “stakeholders” or interest groups), as “primary” clients.

And they did so in spite of the evidently “different from the majority” nature of those groups

–that is: in spite of the fact that they are, not only a minority, but furthermore, and to some degree,

discriminatory of, or the opposite of the majority’s lifestyle, tastes, values, ideas and beliefs–.

But, what alternatives did the media have, if –for example, in a typical women’s magazine– the reader, paying the cover price, provides less than 5% of the publisher’s revenue; while the advertisers make up the remaining 95%, or more? And what else could they do –the media asked themselves– if organized activists, supported by authorities and advertisers, could close down their businesses, or make operating them extremely difficult…? Who can hold out against a hostile Take-Over Bid (TOB) on the stock market, or an endless and biased series of official inspections, or problematic bank operations (that do not proceed smoothly, but encounter all kinds of difficulties, asset freezing and errors), or slander and threats of legal action, or boycotts orchestrated to lay siege to the media…?

This transformed their core commodity –which is their reason for being and existing–, into a mere “advertising container” and logically redefined their editorial policies. …And what’s worse: This altered their contents, making them useless, irrelevant, false, biased, alien, unpleasant, or even antagonistic to the reader.

The reader, reviled, became even more repelled –let’s recall that at the time, media sales (in general) had already been dropping for years–; and so this business shift finally broke the tacit alliance of loyalty between producers/editors/disseminators, and their public. This has even gotten to the point that nobody even thinks, that advertisements in media –for example in a magazine– , should be chosen in order to appeal to and be useful to its readers, who become upset and “leave” when they encounter objectionable, inappropriate, fraudulent, exasperating, excessive or hostile advertising in the magazine pages, streets…

What’s more: When deciding which advertisements to publish, everything is outweighed by the interests of the stakeholders, who close off their “private reserves” [the media they use to disseminate their advertising] to any brands that do not comprise part of their catalogue or that of their political or financial partners, or that are not friendly or supportive of their own (that compete with them in some way), although this renders the magazine (or other media) contents even more odious or useless to its readers.

Not to mention that media campaigns against people, businesses and institutions, are usually a response to these same agenda interests, worsening the problem.

Furthermore: The merger of media, publishing, television companies, etc. that led to the consolidation of today’s media conglomerates, homogenized contents so much, that it became impossible to distinguish between them.

All the more because the homogenization has gotten to the point that nobody dares disseminate relevant information that is not also being disseminated by others. This happened, for example, in the case of the international approval of the Codex Alimentarius, about which almost no major media source disseminated full and objective information, in spite of its importance.

Perhaps some media sources vary the political nuancing of their contents, but certainly not the list of events they all disseminate: The room available for “freedom” –as we have said for years– has become terribly small… Attempts have been made to make up for this with ever more aggressive and invasive strategies, with great technological extravagance, gathering ever larger groups of investors and growing multimillion dollar investments ─…which are more and more difficult to coordinate and recover.

When media people complain because the public is “ungrateful and disloyal, and goes with whoever gives them a croissant” or “buys” them in some way or another (…not with quality contents), I ask myself: But, didn’t the media betray their receivers first, even if many were forced by circumstances to do so…?

The good thing about all this is: If the information they disseminate were true, useful, timely, pleasant and relevant to their public –and faithfully, pleasantly and positively reflected their receivers’ values, ideas and beliefs–, the media would still be found appealing, and would not be losing their public since they would be fulfilling the social function they were created for.

And they would be profitable. The scandalous and aggressive political tract Le Canard Enchainé, provides an example of enduring success and profitability, by:

  • being faithful to its editorial line (the spirit in which it was created),
  • refusing to include advertisements –its cover price covers all its expenses–, and
  • employing their reporters as regular staff, with all the corresponding legal rights and privileges.

Internet has neither diminished its public nor its credibility, and power groups continue to fear it. And not because of how scandalous it is, but rather because it has kept the readers’ trust, remaining faithful to its values “…in sickness and in health, for richer and for poorer, attacked or applauded, with good or bad sales records, … til death do us part”.

Further proof –to give an example that is the opposite of the previous one in terms of ideology–, is the international box-office success  of the Spanish documentary La Última Cima [ The Last Summit, review],  which narrates the life of an ordinary priest who died recently; or the fact that Spain’s televised Sunday Mass, regularly reaches higher audience shares than the other programs, in spite of its low production budget and lack of advertising…

The “paradox of power” (in the media world), is exactly as follows:

When the media have a public and are independent, the powerful make their lives impossible.

But when the media lose viewers precisely because they gave in to demands made by powerful people,

the latter  abbandon it, because MEDIA WITHOUT AN AUDIENCE BECOME WORTHLESS AND USELESS TO THEM

So for the media,

giving in to demands to such an extent that they compromise their values,

and they cease to fulfil their publics’ needs and expectations,

is tantamount to “suicide”…

The problem is that, not giving in, nowadays, appears to be equally reckless…

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Isn’t it time that the powerful –both people and institutions, realize they are killing the “goose that lays the golden eggs”, and that by not setting sensible limitations on their influence, they will lose everything, and end up without any channel for communicating with the “general/broad/mainstream public”?

There is simply no way to recover the majority of the public’s trust, in such a way that the media become profitable again on their own (without subsidies, sponsorships, or patrons, as they do need), if contents agendas don’t readapt themselves to their receivers’ tastes, needs and opinions…

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If we add to this a disproportionate and aggressive increase in advertising contents everywhere, and particularly in the media, and the ever less appealing, useful and relevant nature of these advertisements to the public

(unlike in the sixties during the Chemical Revolution, when new products came out daily, each one more attractive and surprising than the last, …at a time when most people had money to buy them and didn’t expect any serious side effects from them),

we can undoubtedly understand why the media crisis has reached its present magnitud.

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How, then, can one explain that the Edelman Trust Barometer, suggests repairing institutions’ lack of credibility and trustworthiness –a “cure” for receivers’ skepticism–, …by repeating their messages even more often to make people ultimately accept them due to exhaustion? –harping on them ad nauseam will ultimately make people “blind” to them (as specialists have found in brain studies, in fact), and start to resent them; …and flatly oppose anything recommended to them, as traditionally happens in dictatorships or tyrannies, with respect to the media and official information sources–.

According to the 2012 Edelman Trust Barometer [English infographics on media], society’s trust in media barely reaches 40% in the United States and the European Union, and 32 % in Great Britain –countries where it seemed it would never drop (Analysts of those countries were shocked to learn in 1990, that in other countries we systematically question everything the important media sources tell us; cfr. Aída Gambetta, private communication)–. In the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China), there is more trust, but not much: 54 %… ‘LatinoBarómetro also finds very low levels in Ibero-America, and Mexico’s  media credibility rated as “only fair”.

That said, the media don’t comprise the least trustworthy institution [Note added in January 2014: …Only one of the least trusted industries, according to Edelman Barometer 2013…].

We can take comfort in the fact that, political parties, governments, unions, courts, etc. are in worse shape… Even NGOs have suffered an important decline in the degree of trust society places in them. That is: The people now only half believe –or even less–  those who either due to their vocation or the social needs they are expected to fulfill, should be telling the truth 100 % of the time (to the extent it is humanly possible for them to know what is really going on).

The trust society placed in them before, is being transferred to everyday citizens, to “somebody like me” –to our “peers” or “fellows”–. And although this phenomenon became visible thanks to internet’s social media networks, it has carried more weight than the media or the so-called institutional “authorities” in terms of book sales and movie attendance, for at least the last 15 years. In 2012, for example, personal recommendations, with no ax to grind –that is by “word of mouth”…, reached a credibility “score” of 65 %. [Edelman article in English on the increasing authority we confer on our circle of aqcuaintances].

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Let’s be clear:

To get back platforms having real social influence, …to regain the trust of the average person, it’s important to once again share and reflect THEIR values and tastes, and to fulfil their needs, not those of some contents agenda, imposed on society by power groups.

Not even the media agenda common in the trade because it is ingrained in them during their training years, and enduringly and permanently imposed on them by their interactions with their fellows and the possibility of receiving awards, recognition, scholarships and other opportunities, can replace that of the public.

Why? Because, in broad terms and as absurd as it may seem considering their sociological mission is that of reflecting and fostering their target public’s most widely held values, ideas and beliefs–, media peoples’ agenda differs greatly from that of the majority of society.

Values and trust, go hand in hand… And if the power groups do not set limits, and the media do not take on the task of becoming mouthpieces for the thoughts and feelings of “regular citizens” –and of responding to their interests, tastes and needs–, what happened to traditional media electronic and print, will happen to the digital ones. …Do we really want to see them die off as major influencers and societal backbones, in –perhaps– less than ten years, after the huge investments that have been made to build the eagerly anticipated Digital Society…?

…We don’t, do we?

Therefore the Digital Society can only be restored and endure,

if these two issues are resolved: that of trust, and that of values.


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About Blanca de Lizaur, PhD, MA, BA