Thursday, March 01, 2007

Trump card: they still trust us

There's a valuable story at the Readership Institute website pulling together recent research and making the crucial point that the way people feel about "the media" isn't the same as the way they feel about their local newspaper. The key take-away is simple and profound: most people trust the local paper. This is our trump card -- if we use it well as we transition into the new media landscape.

Here's a key taste from the article:

But, "the media" are not "my local daily newspaper" (just like Congress is not my local Congressman). People seem to have a different response when asked directly about the newspaper they usually read. Writing in the Newspaper Research Journal in 2004, Phil Meyer identified several studies that show that, when asked specifically about their local newspaper, people rate newspapers very high on various questions related to credibility, believability, and trust.

our own study of the 100 Impact papers last fall, we found that 75% of respondents say they trust their local daily newspaper to do a good job most of the time or just about always. Younger people, in particular, and those with lower education and income levels tend to have slightly higher levels of trust in the newspaper. What's more, we found that trust correlates with readership -- people who trust the newspaper are more likely to read it.

Trust, however, is not just an opinion or attitude one has about the newspaper (and that you can measure with a single question). Trust is a relationship; it is a product of an ongoing interaction a person has with the newspaper product, brand, and service; it is an experience.

I remember not long ago noticing that the same 2004 Pew survey that was widely quoted saying more than half the adults surveyed believed "little or nothing" from the press, also said that 80% had strong positive feelings about their local paper.

It's hard to overstate how crucial this is. Our relationship with local readers gives us the opportunity to leverage into the new media world in a way that sustains our journalistic mission: hold government accountable, speak the truth to power, build community cohesion, be a voice for the voiceless. Without their trust, we're just another voice in the bewildering chorus; with it, we can continue to satisfy our crucial mission even as we change platforms and learn to meet audience needs in new ways.

Especially with the continued, negative perception that surrounds our industry these days, it's crucial that you not buy into the conventional wisdom. People still trust us to look out for their interests; when you add newspaper readership to unduplicated online visitors, our total audience is growing.

More people want what we do today than wanted it yesterday. This is not the profile of a dying industry.

Don't let the common misperception take root in your newsroom; our demise is certainly not inevitable, and need not even be likely.

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