Trust is the new click

“The major social networks have struggled to build trust over the last year, and the passive programmatic machine lurking in the background is, by its very nature, anonymous.”

In 2016, the media’s usual battle for attention felt more like a war. Fueled primarily by an unprecedented political season, consumers were bombarded with a ceaseless litany of “breaking news,” recycled headlines, fake stories, and social feeds just begging for their next click.

michael-kuntzFrom an outsider’s perspective (putting print media aside), it would seem like a golden age for the news business. However, those of us in the bunkers know that’s not quite the case. The battlefield has never been more crowded and the challenges, particularly in the digital space, have never been more real. We’ve been fighting against ourselves, and, in turn, we’ve surrendered too much of our territory to the platform and ad tech giants who have increasingly monopolized the larger attention economy.

All is not lost.

As I look towards 2017, I believe many news outlets (legacy or digital native) will focus less of their resources on “off-platform expansion” — whether through Facebook Instant Articles, Snapchat Discover, or Apple News — and expend more effort doubling-down on what’s most important, and what they do best: building trust with readers. The major social networks have struggled to do this over the last year, and the passive programmatic machine lurking in the background is, by its very nature, anonymous.

Trust, regardless of a media company’s political leanings or institutional beliefs, is where news brands can and will continue to thrive in the future. We know that trust leads to greater engagement, brand affinity, and a willingness to pay for premium news content. Think of it as a battle for hearts and minds instead of just eyeballs and clicks.

Importantly, trust will directly influence the amount of time consumers spend with digital news content (and digital news brands) moving forward, regardless of the platform, medium or device. For brands who are trying to connect with consumers in a more meaningful and authentic way, time spent will be the digital ad currency of the future, above and beyond the click, like, share, or even the most sophisticated forms of audience targeting.

As we live through an age of fake news and filter bubbles, the trust surrounding quality journalism, and the time readers and consumers spend engaging with real news content, has never mattered more. It also matters greatly to marketers, and in 2017, the battle lines will move further away from buying passive eyeballs at scale to buying eyeballs that are actually looking back.

This will be the year the digital media juggernauts finally recognize the importance of journalism’s role in breeding greater trust and increasing engagement across their platforms, which is not only a win for the reader, but also provides a larger opportunity to capture those more elusive branding dollars that will continue to leave print and television.

The future of the digital news business, which is the future of news itself, is at stake. If we don’t win the war for reader trust, we’ll be left fighting battles for a smaller share of ad dollars. The good news is it’s a war we can win.

Michael Kuntz is senior vice president of digital revenue at USA Today Network.

Bill Adair   The year of the fact-checking bot

Margarita Noriega   From pinning tweets to tweeting pins

Keren Goldshlager   Defining a focus, and then saying no

Javaun Moradi   What can we own?

Millie Tran   International expansion without colonial overtones

Erin Pettigrew   A year of reflection in tech

Peter Sterne   A dangerous anti-press mix

Dan Colarusso   Let’s make live video we can love

Annemarie Dooling   UGC as a path out of the bubble

Rachel Sklar   Women are going to get loud

S.P. Sullivan   Baking transparency into our routines

Sarah Marshall   Focusing on the why of the click

Steve Henn   The next revolution is voice

Helen Havlak   Chasing mobile search results

Vivian Schiller   Tested like never before

Samantha Barry   Messaging apps go mainstream

David Weigel   A test for online speech

Maria Bustillos   “It’s true — I saw it on Facebook”

Elizabeth Jensen   Trust depends on the details

Andrew Losowsky   Building our own communities

Renée Kaplan   Pure reach has reached its limit

Tim Griggs   The year we stop taking sides

Moreno Cruz Osório   The year of transparency in Brazilian journalism

Ken Schwencke   Disaggregation and collection

Carrie Brown-Smith   We won’t do enough

Zizi Papacharissi   Distracted journalism looks in the mirror

Ole Reißmann   Un-faking the news

Coleen O'Lear   Back to basics

Kawandeep Virdee   Moving deeper than the machine of clicks

Mandy Velez   The audience is the source and the story

Andrew Haeg   The year of listening

Trushar Barot   API or die

Amy O'Leary   Not just covering communities, reaching them

Valérie Bélair-Gagnon   Truthiness in private spaces

Sam Ford   The year we talk about our awful metrics

David Chavern   Fake news gets solved

Caitlin Thompson   High touch, high value

Libby Bawcombe   Kids board the podcast train

Ståle Grut   The battle for high-quality VR

Laura Walker   Authentic voices, not fake news

David Skok   What lies beyond paywalls

Rebekah Monson   Journalism is community-as-a-service

An Xiao Mina   2017 is for the attention innovators

Lee Glendinning   A call for great editing

Michael Oreskes   Reversing the erosion of democracy

Geetika Rudra   Journalism is community

Nicholas Quah   Podcasting’s coming class war

Richard J. Tofel   The country doesn’t trust us — but they do believe us

Cory Haik   Navigating power in Trump’s America

Matt Karolian   AI improves publishing

Alice Antheaume   A new test for French media

Melody Kramer   Radically rethinking design

Erin Millar   The bottom falls out of Canadian media

Swati Sharma   Failing diversity is failing journalism

Joanne Lipman   The year of the drone, really

Andrew Ramsammy   Rise of the rebel journalist

Alexis Lloyd   Public trust for private realities

Mary Meehan   Feeling blue in a red state

Dannagal G. Young   The return of the gatekeepers

Emi Kolawole   From empathy to community

Tanya Cordrey   The resurgence of reach

Errin Haines Whack   Chaos or community?

Andrea Silenzi   Podcasts dive into breaking news analysis

Dhiya Kuriakose   The year of digital detoxing

Ray Soto   VR moves from experiments to immersion

Ernst-Jan Pfauth   Earn trust by working for (and with) readers

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen   News after advertising may look like news before advertising

Katie Zhu   The year of minority media

Tim Herrera   The safe space of service journalism

Ashley C. Woods   Local journalism will fight a new fight

Mike Ragsdale   A smarter information diet

Ariane Bernard   Better data about your users

Claire Wardle   Verification takes center stage

Andy Rossback   The year of the user

Olivia Ma   The year collaboration beats competition

Kathleen Kingsbury   Print as a premium offering

Sue Schardt   Objectivity, fairness, balance, and love

Guy Raz   Inspiration and hope will matter more than ever

Nushin Rashidian   A rise in high-price, high-value subscriptions

Julia Beizer   Building a coherent core identity

Burt Herman   Local news gets interesting

Jonathan Stray   A boom in responsible conservative media

Juan Luis Sánchez   Your predictions are our present

Mathew Ingram   The Faustian Facebook dance continues

Rubina Madan Fillion   Snapchat grows up

Mario Garcia   Virtual reality on mobile leaps forward

Scott Dodd   Nonprofits team up for impact

Jon Slade   Trusted news, at a premium

Laura E. Davis   Show your work

Lam Thuy Vo   The primary source in the age of mechanical multiplication

Liz Danzico   The triumph of the small

Amie Ferris-Rotman   Вслед за Россией

Nathalie Malinarich   Making it easy

Molly de Aguiar   Philanthropists galvanize around news

Carla Zanoni   Prioritizing emotional health

Matt Waite   The people running the media are the problem

Almar Latour   Thanks, #fakenews

Dan Gillmor   Fix the demand side of news too

Mira Lowe   News literacy, bias, and “Hamilton”

Michael Kuntz   Trust is the new click

Priya Ganapati   Mobile websites are ready for reinvention

Ryan McCarthy   Platforms grow up or grow more toxic

Sydette Harry   Facing journalism’s history

Bill Keller   A healthy skepticism about data

Eric Nuzum   Podcasting stratifies into hard layers

Jim Friedlich   A banner year for venture philanthropy

Corey Ford   The year of the rebelpreneur

Reyhan Harmanci   Bear witness — but then what?

Robert Hernandez   History will exclude you, again

Megan H. Chan   Cultural reporting goes mainstream

Adam Thomas   The coming collaboration across Europe

Hillary Frey   Forests need to burn to regrow

Pablo Boczkowski   Fake news and the future of journalism

Jonathan Hunt   Measurement companies get with the times

Emily Goligoski   Incorporating audience feedback at scale

Liz McMillen   The year of deep insights

Sara M. Watson   There is no neutral interface

Taylor Lorenz   “Selfie journalism” becomes a thing

Anita Zielina   The sales funnel reaches (and changes) the newsroom

Tressie McMillan Cottom   A path through the media’s coming legitimacy crisis

Asma Khalid   The year of the newsy podcast

Gabriel Snyder   The aberration of 20th-century journalism

Cindy Royal   Preparing the digital educator-scholar hybrid

Mark Armstrong   Time to pay up

P. Kim Bui   The year journalism teaches again

Sarah Wolozin   Virtual reality on the open web

Christopher Meighan   Unlocking a deeper mobile experience

Tracie Powell   Building reader relationships

Jeremy Barr   A terrible year for Tiers B through D

Francesco Marconi   The year of augmented writing

Alberto Cairo   Communicating uncertainty to our readers

Doris Truong   Connecting with diverse perspectives

Umbreen Bhatti   A sense of journalists’ humanity

Aja Bogdanoff   Comments start pulling their weight

Rachel Schallom   Stop flying over the flyover states

M. Scott Havens   Quality advertising to pair with quality content

Mary Walter-Brown   Getting comfortable asking for money

Juliette De Maeyer and Dominique Trudel   A rebirth of populist journalism

Felix Salmon   Headlines matter

Amy Webb   Journalism as a service