Declining trust forces publishers to claim (or disclaim) values

“Just as almost all sizeable publishers today have audience teams, almost all will have trust teams and trust dashboards within five years.”

There is a well-known saying about trust: Trust comes on foot, but leaves on horseback. Unfortunately, 2020 proved to be another year of declining trust in media.

Many publishers’ product and technology teams have spent time over the past two years working to understand bias in emerging machine learning algorithms. But 2021 will see those teams tackling a far more difficult problem: perceived bias in the human journalism algorithm. And the long march to win back trust will begin.

This is a topic that many industries are grappling with, not just journalism. Sectors from e-commerce to travel to SaaS are all wrestling with trust. Customers today want to understand what brands stand for — and want evidence that their products adhere to their values.

The challenge facing publishers is slightly different. In other industries, brands have stated aims and values and the key issue is how their products live up to these principles. News publishers don’t always have stated values, and their absence — along with an internal lack of focus on how their product is consumed as a whole — leaves users to interpret the media organizations’ values (and any bias) for themselves.

The use of audience data and analytics have come a long way in news organizations. But all the individual data points — each pageview, each share, each engagement — often fail to capture the broader (and harder) topic of how the editorial proposition is consumed and viewed as a whole, and how this is shifting in real-time.

Publishers must face that many users believe there’s been a blurring of fact and opinion. Whether that’s true or not, that is the perception. And we’ve reached a tipping point where too many news consumers are now uncomfortable. This is not a sudden trend. It’s happened over many years, likely accelerated by the clickworthy nature of opinion articles that have deluged social media far more widely than traditional news articles.

News publishers ignore this decline in trust at their peril. The idea that a news publisher should be seen as unbiased and neutral automatically is no longer the case. We have reached a tipping point where the first news organizations will begin to tackle the decline in trust overtly.

In the coming year or two, we’ll see three types of publishers emerge:

  1. Those with a stated viewpoint through which all is reported. This has already happened in the eyes of the users. News publishers can either embrace this stance or actively work to move away from it.
  2. Those who encourage a range of opinions but curate them carefully to foster debate and advance understanding. Some organizations already pull this off, but they do need to track users’ perceptions, as they can shift quickly without editorial being aware.
  3. Those who state loudly that they report only facts and reject option. In the U.K., this has been the position of the mighty BBC — but even that’s now questioned. The Reuters Institute’s Digital News Report this year revealed distrust of public service media is growing and is often higher than for many other news brands.

Falling trust in the BBC means there’s a huge opportunity in this third segment for news publishers. Especially as recent reports clearly show a hunger for unbiased or neutral news sources. But it will require a news organization to publicly claim a neutral position and then demonstrate how its actions live up to its words.

The winners will be publishers that embrace product and tech thinking to advance understanding of trust at pace. So, in 2021, a handful of publishers will likely look at their roadmap and dedicate a certain percentage of tech and product team resources to build, test, and learn about trust: How it is won, lost, and perceived.

This will not be a one-off project but instead the creation of a permanent product and tech Trust teams. Just as almost all sizeable publishers today have audience teams, almost all will have trust teams and trust dashboards within five years.

2021 will be about discovery around trust. But it’s important to recognize this is not a technology or product problem. It’s a huge editorial challenge, but one where tech and product can help build understanding.

It will demand new levels of collaboration between editorial and tech, from ideation to execution. Great delivery and discovery go hand-in-hand. It should be the same team, working and learning on the same ideas and concepts. It’s almost impossible to achieve fantastic success with an idea when it’s handed off for execution to another team with little understanding of the users, the prioritized needs, and the lessons from experiments and failures along the way. It’s likely there will be a first-mover advantage to the publisher that cracks this first.

Tanya Cordrey is former chief digital officer of Guardian News & Media and partner at tech and product consultancy AKF Partners.

There is a well-known saying about trust: Trust comes on foot, but leaves on horseback. Unfortunately, 2020 proved to be another year of declining trust in media.

Many publishers’ product and technology teams have spent time over the past two years working to understand bias in emerging machine learning algorithms. But 2021 will see those teams tackling a far more difficult problem: perceived bias in the human journalism algorithm. And the long march to win back trust will begin.

This is a topic that many industries are grappling with, not just journalism. Sectors from e-commerce to travel to SaaS are all wrestling with trust. Customers today want to understand what brands stand for — and want evidence that their products adhere to their values.

The challenge facing publishers is slightly different. In other industries, brands have stated aims and values and the key issue is how their products live up to these principles. News publishers don’t always have stated values, and their absence — along with an internal lack of focus on how their product is consumed as a whole — leaves users to interpret the media organizations’ values (and any bias) for themselves.

The use of audience data and analytics have come a long way in news organizations. But all the individual data points — each pageview, each share, each engagement — often fail to capture the broader (and harder) topic of how the editorial proposition is consumed and viewed as a whole, and how this is shifting in real-time.

Publishers must face that many users believe there’s been a blurring of fact and opinion. Whether that’s true or not, that is the perception. And we’ve reached a tipping point where too many news consumers are now uncomfortable. This is not a sudden trend. It’s happened over many years, likely accelerated by the clickworthy nature of opinion articles that have deluged social media far more widely than traditional news articles.

News publishers ignore this decline in trust at their peril. The idea that a news publisher should be seen as unbiased and neutral automatically is no longer the case. We have reached a tipping point where the first news organizations will begin to tackle the decline in trust overtly.

In the coming year or two, we’ll see three types of publishers emerge:

  1. Those with a stated viewpoint through which all is reported. This has already happened in the eyes of the users. News publishers can either embrace this stance or actively work to move away from it.
  2. Those who encourage a range of opinions but curate them carefully to foster debate and advance understanding. Some organizations already pull this off, but they do need to track users’ perceptions, as they can shift quickly without editorial being aware.
  3. Those who state loudly that they report only facts and reject option. In the U.K., this has been the position of the mighty BBC — but even that’s now questioned. The Reuters Institute’s Digital News Report this year revealed distrust of public service media is growing and is often higher than for many other news brands.

Falling trust in the BBC means there’s a huge opportunity in this third segment for news publishers. Especially as recent reports clearly show a hunger for unbiased or neutral news sources. But it will require a news organization to publicly claim a neutral position and then demonstrate how its actions live up to its words.

The winners will be publishers that embrace product and tech thinking to advance understanding of trust at pace. So, in 2021, a handful of publishers will likely look at their roadmap and dedicate a certain percentage of tech and product team resources to build, test, and learn about trust: How it is won, lost, and perceived.

This will not be a one-off project but instead the creation of a permanent product and tech Trust teams. Just as almost all sizeable publishers today have audience teams, almost all will have trust teams and trust dashboards within five years.

2021 will be about discovery around trust. But it’s important to recognize this is not a technology or product problem. It’s a huge editorial challenge, but one where tech and product can help build understanding.

It will demand new levels of collaboration between editorial and tech, from ideation to execution. Great delivery and discovery go hand-in-hand. It should be the same team, working and learning on the same ideas and concepts. It’s almost impossible to achieve fantastic success with an idea when it’s handed off for execution to another team with little understanding of the users, the prioritized needs, and the lessons from experiments and failures along the way. It’s likely there will be a first-mover advantage to the publisher that cracks this first.

Tanya Cordrey is former chief digital officer of Guardian News & Media and partner at tech and product consultancy AKF Partners.

Jody Brannon   People won’t renew

Sonali Prasad   Making disaster journalism that cuts through the noise

Renée Kaplan   Falling in love with your subscription

Marie Shanahan   Journalism schools stop perpetuating the status quo

Marcus Mabry   News orgs adapt to a post-Trump world (with Trump still in it)

Nicholas Jackson   Blogging is back, but better

Aaron Foley   Diversity gains haven’t shown up in local news

Pablo Boczkowski   Audiences have revolted. Will newsrooms adapt?

Talmon Joseph Smith   The media rejects deficit hawkery

Rishad Patel   From direct-to-consumer to direct-to-believers

Ryan Kellett   The bundle gets bundled

Zizi Papacharissi   The year we rebuild the infrastructure of truth

José Zamora   Walking the talk on diversity

Mandy Jenkins   You build trust by helping your readers

Sumi Aggarwal   News literacy programs aren’t child’s play

Mike Ananny   Toward better tech journalism

Nico Gendron   Ask your readers to help build your products

Kate Myers   My son will join every Zoom call in our industry

Robert Hernandez   Data and shame

Benjamin Toff   Beltway reporting gets normal again, for better and for worse

Logan Jaffe   History as a reporting tool

Anthony Nadler   Journalism struggles to find a new model of legitimacy

Rodney Gibbs   Zooming beyond talking heads

Charo Henríquez   A new path to leadership

Jesse Holcomb   Genre erosion in nonprofit journalism

Ben Werdmuller   The web blooms again

Steve Henn   Has independent podcasting peaked?

Francesca Tripodi   Don’t expect breaking up Google and Facebook to solve our information woes

Juleyka Lantigua   The download, podcasting’s metric king, gets dethroned

Mark S. Luckie   Newsrooms and streaming services get cozy

Jim Friedlich   A newspaper renaissance reached by stopping the presses

Nikki Usher   Don’t expect an antitrust dividend for the media

Danielle C. Belton   A decimated media rededicates itself to truth

Candis Callison   Calling it a crisis isn’t enough (if it ever was)

Sue Cross   A global consensus around the kind of news we need to save

Tamar Charney   Public radio has a midlife crisis

John Ketchum   More journalists of color become newsroom founders

Andrew Ramsammy   Stop being polite and start getting real

Tauhid Chappell and Mike Rispoli   Defund the crime beat

Stefanie Murray and Anthony Advincula   Expect to see more translations and non-English content

Linda Solomon Wood   Canada steps up for journalism

Sam Ford   We’ll find better ways to archive our work

Brian Moritz   The year sports journalism changes for good

Julia B. Chan and Kim Bui   Millennials are ready to run things

Celeste Headlee   The rise of radical newsroom transparency

María Sánchez Díez   Traffic will plummet — and it’ll be ok

David Chavern   Local video finally gets momentum

Sarah Marshall   The year audiences need extra cheer

Matt DeRienzo   Citizen truth brigades steer us back toward reality

Hossein Derakhshan   Mass personalization of truth

Patrick Butler   Covid-19 reporting has prepared us for cross-border collaboration

Anna Nirmala   Local news orgs grasp the urgency of community roots

Loretta Chao   Open up the profession

Joshua P. Darr   Legislatures will tackle the local news crisis

Nisha Chittal   The year we stop pivoting

Amara Aguilar   Journalism schools emphasize listening

Ariane Bernard   Going solo is still only a path for the few

Moreno Cruz Osório   In Brazil, a push for pluralism

Laura E. Davis   The focus turns to newsroom leaders for lasting change

Jessica Clark   News becomes plural

Joni Deutsch   Local arts and music make journalism more joyous

Catalina Albeanu   Publish less, listen more

Alfred Hermida and Oscar Westlund   The virus ups data journalism’s game

A.J. Bauer   The year of MAGAcal thinking

Annie Rudd   Newsrooms grow less comfortable with the “view from above”

Jeremy Gilbert   Human-centered journalism

Rachel Glickhouse   Journalists will be kinder to each other — and to themselves

Cory Haik   Be essential

Imaeyen Ibanga   Journalism gets unmasked

John Saroff   Covid sparks the growth of independent local news sites

J. Siguru Wahutu   Journalists still wrongly think the U.S. is different

Mike Caulfield   2021’s misinformation will look a lot like 2020’s (and 2019’s, and…)

Eric Nuzum   Podcasting dodged a bullet in 2020, but 2021 will be harder

Basile Simon   Graphics, unite

Tshepo Tshabalala   Go niche

Megan McCarthy   Readers embrace a low-information diet

Bill Adair   The future of fact-checking is all about structured data

Ray Soto   The news gets spatial

Brandy Zadrozny   Misinformation fatigue sets in

Chicas Poderosas   More voices mean better information

Jennifer Choi   What have we done for you lately?

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen   Stop pretending publishers are a united front

Beena Raghavendran   Journalism gets fused with art

Tonya Mosley   True equity means ownership

Garance Franke-Ruta   Rebundling content, rebuilding connections

Gonzalo del Peon   Collaborations expand from newsrooms to the business side

Cory Bergman   The year after a thousand earthquakes

Michael W. Wagner   Fractured democracy, fractured journalism

Burt Herman   Journalists build post-Facebook digital communities

Ashton Lattimore   Remote work helps level the playing field in an insular industry

Edward Roussel   Tech companies get aggressive in local

Mariano Blejman   It’s time to challenge autocompleted journalism

Don Day   Business first, journalism second

Tim Carmody   Spotify will make big waves in video

Astead W. Herndon   The Trump-sized window of the media caring about race closes again

Christoph Mergerson   Black Americans will demand more from journalism

Meredith D. Clark   The year journalism starts paying reparations

Kristen Muller   Engaged journalism scales

Taylor Lorenz   Journalists will learn influencing isn’t easy

Natalie Meade   Journalism enters rehab

Hadjar Benmiloud   Get representative, or die trying

Bo Hee Kim   Newsrooms create an intentional and collaborative culture

Mark Stenberg   The rise of the journalist-influencer

Kawandeep Virdee   Goodbye, doomscroll

Alicia Bell and Simon Galperin   Media reparations now

John Davidow   Reflect and repent

Gabe Schneider   Another year of empty promises on diversity

Chase Davis   The year we look beyond The Story

Heidi Tworek   A year of news mocktails

Ben Collins   We need to learn how to talk to (and about) accidental conspiracists

Jer Thorp   Fewer pixels, more cardboard

Nonny de la Pena   News reaches the third dimension

Sarah Stonbely   Videoconferencing brings more geographic diversity

Rick Berke   Virtual events are here to stay

Alyssa Zeisler   Holistic medicine for journalism

Kevin D. Grant   Parachute journalism goes away for good

Colleen Shalby   The definition of good journalism shifts

Marissa Evans   Putting community trauma into context

Kerri Hoffman   Protecting podcasting’s open ecosystem

M. Scott Havens   Traditional pay TV will embrace the disruption

Francesco Zaffarano   The year we ask the audience what it needs

Samantha Ragland   The year of journalists taking initiative

David Skok   A pandemic-prompted wave of consolidation

Nabiha Syed   Newsrooms quit their toxic relationships

Delia Cai   Subscriptions start working for the middle

Joanne McNeil   Newsrooms push back against Ivy League cronyism

Gordon Crovitz   Common law will finally apply to the Internet

Cherian George   Enter the lamb warriors

Doris Truong   Indigenous issues get long-overdue mainstream coverage

Andrew Donohue   The rise of the democracy beat

Parker Molloy   The press will risk elevating a Shadow President Trump

Ståle Grut   Network analysis enters the journalism toolbox

AX Mina   2020 isn’t a black swan — it’s a yellow canary

Richard Tofel   Less on politics, more on how government works (or doesn’t)

Janet Haven and Sam Hinds   Is this an AI newsroom?

Masuma Ahuja   We’ll remember how interconnected our world is

Jacqué Palmer   The rise of the plain-text email newsletter

C.W. Anderson   Journalism changed under Trump — will it keep changing under Biden?

Matt Skibinski   Misinformation won’t stop unless we stop it

Ernie Smith   Entrepreneurship on rails

Jennifer Brandel   A sneak peak at power mapping, 2073’s top innovation

Sara M. Watson   Return of the RSS reader

Pia Frey   Building growth through tastemakers and their communities

Ariel Zirulnick   Local newsrooms question their paywalls

Victor Pickard   The commercial era for local journalism is over

Jean Friedman-Rudovsky and Cassie Haynes   A shift from conversation to action

John Garrett   A surprisingly good year

Whitney Phillips   Facts are an insufficient response to falsehoods

Tanya Cordrey   Declining trust forces publishers to claim (or disclaim) values

Shaydanay Urbani and Nancy Watzman   Local collaboration is key to slowing misinformation

Julia Angwin   Show your (computational) work

Raney Aronson-Rath   To get past information divides, we need to understand them first

Cindy Royal   J-school grads maintain their optimism and adaptability

Rachel Schallom   The rise of nonprofit journalism continues

Jonas Kaiser   Toward a wehrhafte journalism

Errin Haines   Let’s normalize women’s leadership

Zainab Khan   From understanding to feeling