Print or social media? When it comes to trust it’s all about the messenger, not the medium

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.

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5 thoughts on “Print or social media? When it comes to trust it’s all about the messenger, not the medium

  1. Trust in the digital age: you can shoot the messenger but certainly not the medium

  2. You make some great points, Rhys.

    I think that for many that live and breath social media like yourself, it has become ‘the’ tool for content curation. In times of breaking news, those with experience of the medium know where to look. @BBCbreaking or the @AP Twitter feed are verified and trustworthy sources that one can instantly check for ‘the’ latest on any story, before it hits print or TV. Why you wouldn’t want to do that and get the jump on a breaking story, I’ve no idea.

    Outside of the big players, live tweets from the Boston Marathon manhunt, or the assault on Bin Laden’s compound were some of the most compelling ‘content’ that one could read. Raw, visceral and often accidental broadcasters, caught up in the most unexpected circumstances. Discovering these ‘sources’ by crawling through hashtags and RT after RT, is the skill of the digital journalist. It can’t be taught and should be commended by current affairs consumers the world over. Relaying that to yourself, the way you curated content from various sources, both personal witnesses and from the networks during the SF plane crash was first class journalism.

    This is the good side of the digital sphere. It has also lead to; and I’m sure you’ll agree, lazy journalists. Those who crawl Facebook after fatalities for soundbites and humanist headshots are insufferable. There are also those who pull a press release off the web at 9.05 and then re post to their own site varbatim by 9.15. Often not referencing the source and then taking the afternoon off having, done their bit.

    I think it’s this side that has given social media/ digital journalists a bad name amongst their peers.

    Once you understand the power of the web and social media to instantly curate reliable sources, draft and publish an article and have it live for consumers in minutes. You see that in the era of ‘now not later’ consumerism, this is the path all journalists must take.

    • Thanks for the feedback Shaun. I was tweeting the SFO crash with an eye on the fact information was likely to be scarce for majority of my followers in the UK during the first minutes and hours, so I’m really pleased you found the information I was sharing useful and informative.

      Obviously not everyone has the professional experience or confidence to attempt to curate breaking news in this way, but I think it’s important that we start teaching social media literacy in schools so generations growing up surrounded by this technology learn how to treat the information found there critically. I’ve long been an advocate of teaching basic media law in schools now we are all able to be publishers, and I think the ability to be discerning about online information is simply another aspect of the need for us to be proactive in educating people about social media – its benefits and its potential pitfalls.

  3. Journalist like you do the homework to get and publish the facts. FB and other digital medias but amateurs can’t be trusted. I trust YOU!

  4. sorry typo…FB and other digital media by amateurs can’t be trusted. Basically they all editorialize to make what they say sound more interesting and the facts and thrown out like bath water.

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