Who do you trust more, your local paper or Facebook? According to this story published by The Drum earlier today a YouGov poll has found people are far more likely to trust their local rag to inform them about what’s happening in their community than they do Mark Zuckerberg’s social networking behemoth.
Regardless of the figures YouGov turned up, this headline is the sort of thing that can usually be guaranteed to rally the digital evangelists and print die-hards for yet another clash in the cultural civil war that seems to have gripped many newsrooms in recent years.
But to see this as another excuse to rehash the tired old arguments about print versus digital would be to miss the point entirely. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that trying to quantify people’s trust in Facebook compared to their local paper is akin to asking which they trust more, the BBC or their telephone.
Facebook is, like Twitter and other online tools of mass communication, first and foremost a medium. It is a means for individuals and organisations to share a message with an audience. Of course there are important questions of trust around corporations like Facebook, Google and Twitter, we hand over vast amounts of data to these companies in the hope they will use it benignly. But it is wrong to cultivate the opinion that simply because information is on Facebook it is inherently less trustworthy than if it was printed on dead trees.
Instead users should be learning to question the messenger rather than the medium. Who is the source? Are they reliable? Is this information I should take at face value? Should I pass it on?
And this is where social media should be seen in newsrooms as an opportunity, not just a threat to traditional media’s long-held monopoly over information. As users get more savvy, more adept at critically evaluating what they see online, all journalists should aspire be a strong voice sorting rumour from fact. Rather than dismissing Facebook and Twitter as a swirling mix of lies, libel and loonies, let journalists be the ones to sift, verify and broadcast.
People may instinctively trust established media, be it the local paper they have read for decades or the TV news. But when a passenger jet crashed at San Francisco airport recently people didn’t simply sit back and wait for CNN to report the news, they took to social media to find out what was happening, as it happened.
This is the space into which all journalists should be stepping. Let’s not reduce this debate to trust in established print brands versus distrust in new media. Let’s take our trusted brands and strong editorial standards into the rough and tumble world of social media where we can show our audiences that it’s not about the medium – it’s all about the messenger.