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.

Laura E. Davis   Show your work

Andrea Silenzi   Podcasts dive into breaking news analysis

Corey Ford   The year of the rebelpreneur

Carrie Brown-Smith   We won’t do enough

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

Liz Danzico   The triumph of the small

Hillary Frey   Forests need to burn to regrow

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

Ashley C. Woods   Local journalism will fight a new fight

Jonathan Hunt   Measurement companies get with the times

Michael Oreskes   Reversing the erosion of democracy

Matt Waite   The people running the media are the problem

Tracie Powell   Building reader relationships

Christopher Meighan   Unlocking a deeper mobile experience

Pablo Boczkowski   Fake news and the future of journalism

Kathleen Kingsbury   Print as a premium offering

Errin Haines   Chaos or community?

Erin Millar   The bottom falls out of Canadian media

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

Bill Adair   The year of the fact-checking bot

Eric Nuzum   Podcasting stratifies into hard layers

Sam Ford   The year we talk about our awful metrics

Nicholas Quah   Podcasting’s coming class war

Rebekah Monson   Journalism is community-as-a-service

Emily Goligoski   Incorporating audience feedback at scale

Valérie Bélair-Gagnon   Truthiness in private spaces

Cindy Royal   Preparing the digital educator-scholar hybrid

Emi Kolawole   From empathy to community

Samantha Barry   Messaging apps go mainstream

Ståle Grut   The battle for high-quality VR

Cory Haik   Navigating power in Trump’s America

P. Kim Bui   The year journalism teaches again

Rachel Sklar   Women are going to get loud

Felix Salmon   Headlines matter

Guy Raz   Inspiration and hope will matter more than ever

Carla Zanoni   Prioritizing emotional health

Vivian Schiller   Tested like never before

Adam Thomas   The coming collaboration across Europe

Mary Meehan   Feeling blue in a red state

Moreno Cruz Osório   The year of transparency in Brazilian journalism

Asma Khalid   The year of the newsy podcast

Doris Truong   Connecting with diverse perspectives

Tim Griggs   The year we stop taking sides

Matt Karolian   AI improves publishing

Ray Soto   VR moves from experiments to immersion

Tim Herrera   The safe space of service journalism

Andrew Losowsky   Building our own communities

Mark Armstrong   Time to pay up

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

M. Scott Havens   Quality advertising to pair with quality content

Andrew Haeg   The year of listening

Alexis Lloyd   Public trust for private realities

Alberto Cairo   Communicating uncertainty to our readers

Alice Antheaume   A new test for French media

Reyhan Harmanci   Bear witness — but then what?

Katie Zhu   The year of minority media

Trushar Barot   API or die

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

Annemarie Dooling   UGC as a path out of the bubble

Umbreen Bhatti   A sense of journalists’ humanity

Amy Webb   Journalism as a service

Michael Kuntz   Trust is the new click

Peter Sterne   A dangerous anti-press mix

David Skok   What lies beyond paywalls

Gabriel Snyder   The aberration of 20th-century journalism

Keren Goldshlager   Defining a focus, and then saying no

Julia Beizer   Building a coherent core identity

Renée Kaplan   Pure reach has reached its limit

Amie Ferris-Rotman   Вслед за Россией

Kawandeep Virdee   Moving deeper than the machine of clicks

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

Molly de Aguiar   Philanthropists galvanize around news

Melody Kramer   Radically rethinking design

Caitlin Thompson   High touch, high value

Lee Glendinning   A call for great editing

Zizi Papacharissi   Distracted journalism looks in the mirror

Margarita Noriega   From pinning tweets to tweeting pins

Dan Colarusso   Let’s make live video we can love

Andy Rossback   The year of the user

Ken Schwencke   Disaggregation and collection

David Chavern   Fake news gets solved

Tanya Cordrey   The resurgence of reach

Geetika Rudra   Journalism is community

Almar Latour   Thanks, #fakenews

Claire Wardle   Verification takes center stage

Mira Lowe   News literacy, bias, and “Hamilton”

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

Erin Pettigrew   A year of reflection in tech

Scott Dodd   Nonprofits team up for impact

Laura Walker   Authentic voices, not fake news

Mandy Velez   The audience is the source and the story

Nathalie Malinarich   Making it easy

Sarah Wolozin   Virtual reality on the open web

Robert Hernandez   History will exclude you, again

Dannagal G. Young   The return of the gatekeepers

Priya Ganapati   Mobile websites are ready for reinvention

Rubina Madan Fillion   Snapchat grows up

Millie Tran   International expansion without colonial overtones

Mary Walter-Brown   Getting comfortable asking for money

Elizabeth Jensen   Trust depends on the details

Ole Reißmann   Un-faking the news

David Weigel   A test for online speech

Burt Herman   Local news gets interesting

Sara M. Watson   There is no neutral interface

Dhiya Kuriakose   The year of digital detoxing

Andrew Ramsammy   Rise of the rebel journalist

Juan Luis Sánchez   Your predictions are our present

Steve Henn   The next revolution is voice

Mathew Ingram   The Faustian Facebook dance continues

Javaun Moradi   What can we own?

Bill Keller   A healthy skepticism about data

Coleen O'Lear   Back to basics

Libby Bawcombe   Kids board the podcast train

S.P. Sullivan   Baking transparency into our routines

Megan H. Chan   Cultural reporting goes mainstream

Ryan McCarthy   Platforms grow up or grow more toxic

Joanne Lipman   The year of the drone, really

Rachel Schallom   Stop flying over the flyover states

Amy O'Leary   Not just covering communities, reaching them

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

Jeremy Barr   A terrible year for Tiers B through D

Jon Slade   Trusted news, at a premium

Aja Bogdanoff   Comments start pulling their weight

Olivia Ma   The year collaboration beats competition

An Xiao Mina   2017 is for the attention innovators

Swati Sharma   Failing diversity is failing journalism

Mike Ragsdale   A smarter information diet

Dan Gillmor   Fix the demand side of news too

Taylor Lorenz   “Selfie journalism” becomes a thing

Juliette De Maeyer and Dominique Trudel   A rebirth of populist journalism

Helen Havlak   Chasing mobile search results

Liz McMillen   The year of deep insights

Ariane Bernard   Better data about your users

Francesco Marconi   The year of augmented writing

Jonathan Stray   A boom in responsible conservative media

Sue Schardt   Objectivity, fairness, balance, and love

Mario García   Virtual reality on mobile leaps forward

Sydette Harry   Facing journalism’s history

Jim Friedlich   A banner year for venture philanthropy

Sarah Marshall   Focusing on the why of the click