Convince with Empathy

How to Maintain Credibility by Attracting Audience in the World of Breaking News

With the advance of the Internet and other technologies in modern society, there is a new age of information relation. Since there is no longer the need to wait for next day’s newspaper, as news from all over the globe is available at the fingertips of a person within hours or even minutes of the event. One of the major reasons for this change is the technological advancement within the media industry. Hence, monitoring this information revolution along with the generational shift of consuming news and other information through mobile devices has become a necessity.

However, the fundamental bond shared between a journalist and the communities they serve has not changed. In fact, trust and accountability have become even more important today. With information so easily available and accessible, the challenge remains for media houses to maintain credibility and authenticity of their reportage.

Challenges come not only in terms of a strong economic standing, (due to a steady decline in the sales of newspapers all over the world), but also in terms of credibility. Today, regardless of which medium is used to deliver a story, the legacy or the credibility of a story is questioned more than ever before. This is happening mainly due to the increasing reports of stories with weak sourcing and also cases where the journalists being caught at “becoming the story” rather than reporting it happening.

With information so easily available and accessible, the challenge remains for media houses to maintain credibility and authenticity of their reportage.

The 24-hours news cycle or the need of producing informative content at a greater speed than ever before is also turning out to be major challenge. With time becoming the ultimate enemy and editors, writers as well as producers being under pressure of producing more content in a shorter span of time, the challenge of maintaining credibility has become even more critical. Whether it is an online media platform trying to provide information on a timely basis or a newspaper trying to analyse a particular event by giving it a fresh perspective, the key to success is transparency and credibility. However, with increasing ‘clickbait’ journalism, the credibility of the story is even more questioned.

There is also an upcoming challenge in the area of platform responsibility or the ‘trust’ factor between a media organisation and their readers or viewers. Today, we tend to be more mobile in terms of changing our jobs, changing a news channel as well as buying a newspaper. Therefore, with the decreasing attention span of the audience, and increasing options of news consuming platforms, trust is required more than ever before.

The media industry has become saturated and highly competitive, hence, the amount of time people spent reading or viewing content is directly linked to the financial economy. This situation is termed ‘attention economy’. At the same time reports also suggests that the trust factor regarding traditional media is declining as well, as even they are facing increasing challenges from media outlets brought in due to the advancement of technology.

A 2017 survey by Reuters for one of its digital news projects showed that the trust in media in the United Kingdom has fallen to almost eight percent in a year. According to Edelman’s annual report on trust, it is found that institutions of government, NGOs and media are trusted less around the world, with the greatest drop in media. The situation is unfortunate as a lot of people tend to take advantage of it, especially politicians. Politicians now use the label of ‘fake news’ to undermine the legitimacy of an established media outlet, especially during elections.

However, apart from the above-mentioned challenges, the media industry is often accused of a lack of representation of minorities as well as racial ethnic groups. This is also a reason why the traditional media is facing a loss of trust among its young readers and viewers. In the case of the media in India, inspite of its growth in the business in the last few years, the lack of diversity is clearly visible. Various surveys also point out that minority communities in India do face a lack of representation in the mainstream media outlets in India. A survey conducted by News Laundry (an Indian news web portal) and reported by Reuters showed that only five percent of the articles written in English language newspapers in India are by people who come from a lower caste. The representation inside the news room is also important. However, this problem is not only limited to media outlets in India, it can be found in many places worldwide.

Equal representation is important because whatever we consume from the media, be it fictional or non- fictional content, it helps us to build our opinions of the real world. The mainstream media has influence over people and helps them to formulate ideas about people outside their own racial or ethnic group, hence, a lack of representation or negative representation of minorities can become harmful in the long run. Diversity in media is important not only to maintain credibility but also because it helps building a more democratic society.

There have been some major changes in the media industry especially in the last five years. We have seen how social media is starting to play a dominant role in terms of becoming a platform for news consumption, and with the invention of Mojo or mobile journalism, everybody can become a news reporter. This as a whole is an additional challenge for media organizations because the collection of news is becoming challenging and maintaining credibility is more difficult. The anonymity of the internet makes verification even more difficult.

The pandemic has forced people and even journalist to work remotely and hence, mobile journalism is becoming the new norm. However, the media industry has its own challenges in keeping up with the advancement of technology. Hence, transparency and accountability are the two things which every media organisation is struggling to maintain in order to achieve platform responsibility. Accountability can be adopted by taking ownership of your story, by mentioning the sources, providing adequate statistics or data available on the topic, and also by providing relatable examples, especially if the author has some personal experience in the matter. These help the reader to connect with the author, and hence, a trust factor which makes the content more credible is built automatically. Weak sourcing is one of the major reasons for lack of trust among news consumers.

Another measure to gain platform responsibility is to take feedback from the audience. Feedback brings the audience and the organisation closer together and helps them to connect. It also gives the audience an opportunity to speak about what they see and feel. This is a way any media organisation can win back the trust of its audience. For instance; freelancing or citizen journalism can be of major help to a media organisation in terms of producing content at greater speed.

Accepting the errors pointed out by the audience is also a way to make them trust you. Accountability can also be increased by providing hyperlinks in an article. Multiple hyperlinks in an article increase viewership and also add credibility to the piece of work. Hence, collaborating with one’s audience through the facilities of freelancing and citizen journalism can help an organisation not only to gain credibility but also to produce more content in a short span of time.

Today, with the market becoming more and more competitive with every passing day, one must focus more on quality than quantity. Information should be provided with responsibility. Hence, in order to be successful, a journalist must be provided with adequate space and resources in order to come up with quality content. Media organisations like Buzzfeed, are now rethinking their position in the industry and coming up with long form articles, for example like the one written by Azmat Khan on Afghanistan’s ghost schools. The article is based on more than 150 interviews, hence adding credibility to the story.

Along with time and financial pressure, the anonymity of a source is something that really limits the credibility of a story. From government officials demanding anonymity even while speaking about known government policies on Instagram and Twitter handles with eggs for profiles, there is an unprecedented amount of content without a name to it. The challenge here is for journalists to be more rigorous with their sourcing while at the same time protecting those whose safety depends on anonymity.

On the flip side of the Internet revolution today there is the direct communication that exists between the journalist and the readers.

On the flip side of the Internet revolution today there is the direct communication that exists between the journalist and the readers. The social networks, especially Twitter and Facebook, are making news and information content stronger than ever, be it in appreciating or expressing support for a story or by ripping it apart when it’s wrong. Today, readers are contributing directly to the media organisations through various media ventures like crowd sourcing, sharing links, but at the same time by also picking up a newspaper every morning.

With social media and direct communication between content producers and the consumers, the choice remains in the hands of the consumer as to which link’s they wishes to share or which publication they think is more credible. In a world where information and content is produced and shared and updated every minute, all one can do as a journalist is to maintain ones ethics by being impartial, responsible and independent of commercials and political interests.

However, when an audience speaks about trust in media, what do they mean by it? Are they looking for unbiased factually accurate information or would they rather trust information that mirrors their views, values and life worlds ? That question remains unanswered.

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ArtIQulate is a publication associated with the Adenauer Fellowship, a scholarship programme by the Media Programme Asia, Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung Ltd.
About the author

Adrija Saha

Alumni, Postgraduate Diploma in Integrated Multimedia Journalism, Asian College of Journalism

Adrija Saha is a reporter based in Kolkata, India. Although the focus of her reporting currently lies mainly on breaking news in Kolkata, Adrija’s main interests lie in the area of war and conflict. In the future, she aspires to make the transition to become a war correspondent.

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