If Trust in the Media is Down, is that Bias? Or Paranoia?

Trust in the Media is Down.  Again, still, more. Gallup is out with a new poll, showing that 60% of the US population “have little or no trust in the mass media to report the news fully, accurately and fairly.”

Strikingly, 58% of Democrats indicate a “great deal or fair amount of trust” in mass media – the comparable number for Republicans is only 26%.

The party line is that the fault lies with the media, that media needs to be and be seen as more trustworthy.  Here is Gallup’s own version of that line:

Media sources must clearly do more to earn the trust of Americans, the majority of whom see the media as biased one way or the other.

No, Gallup, not clear at all. In fact, far from it.

Trust, Trusting and Being Trusted

Gallup’s right about one thing: the media continues to miss a simple distinction–that between trust, trusting and being trusted. Simply put:

  1. To trust, a verb, is to willingly put oneself in harm’s way of another
  2. Being trusted, or trustworthiness, is a noun – a characteristic of the one being trusted
  3. Trust, also a noun, is the result of one party trusting, and the other party being trusted.

Every time you see a headline like this one – US Distrust in Media Hits New High – you can bet you’re seeing data about #3. But the commentary frequently assumes the data means #2.  In other words, this article and many others confuses “trust” with “trustworthiness.”

Suppose you have 10 customers who trust you. You could say the level of trust between you and your customers is high.

Now suppose you get five new customers, all of whom are highly suspicious people, hence are suspicious of you, even though you’ve done nothing different. You could say the level of trust has declined. But not because of any change in your trustworthiness.

The question is: if trust is down, is that because the trustee is less trustworthy? Or because the trustor is less inclined to trust?

The Tyranny of Metrics

Like the drunk who looked for his keys under the streetlamps not because he lost it there, but because there was more light, it’s tempting to measure trust, because that’s easier than measuring trustworthiness or the propensity to trust. But that’s unfortunate – because if all you can say about trust is that it’s up or down, you can’t say why that’s so. And if you can’t say why that’s so, you can’t develop sensible policies to affect it.

Metrics do exist, by the way, for both trustworthiness and for the propensity to trust.  At a corporate level, Trust Across America provides a sound definition of trustworthiness, and data for all publicly traded US companies.  At a personal level, the Trust Quotient from Trusted Advisor Associates does the same.

One of the oldest and most establish trust metrics comes from the General Social Survey, which has tracked for 40 years the answers to a few questions about the propensity to trust strangers.  One of academia’s most respected trust scholars, Dr. Eric Uslaner, writes mainly about the propensity to trust and the increase in distrust.

Next time you read an article asserting that “trust is down,” ask yourself – which side moved?

Trust in Media

The Gallup data show that Democrats with high trust in media went from 65% to 58% – a 10.8% decline. By contrast, Republicans went from 39% to 26% – a 33% decline. Whether you believe the trustworthiness of the media went up, down or sideways, it seems clear that the propensity to trust of one group went down more than another.

What does low propensity to trust mean? Eric Uslaner sums it up: people who trust others tend to be optimistic about the world, and to believe they have some control over their destinies. People who distrust, by contrast, tend to believe the world is going to hell in a hand basket, and that others (“those people”) are responsible.  If you see a parallel between the two major parties, may I suggest it’s no accident.

So when Gallup concludes, “Media sources must clearly do more to earn the trust of Americans,” I respectfully disagree. The purveyors of cynicism often have a lot more responsibility to bear for fomenting distrust and negativity.

When trust is down, who moved? Sometimes it’s the trustor, not the trustee.

Why Hard Trust is Gained from Soft Skills

I was in Toronto. Barely glancing at a $10 bill, I thought, “Ha—they misspelled the word ‘dollar,’ those silly Canadians.”

An instant later, I realized the fault was mine, not Canada’s. But before that realization happened–I had made a judgment. And much trust works that same way.

Think hard data causes trust? Think again. Hard trust is gained from soft skills.

The Myth of Rational Trust

Based on 14,000 takers of the Trust Quotient self-assessment test, we can confidently say most businesspeople overrate the importance of credibility in establishing trust. In practice if not in theory, they believe they can induce trust through PowerPoint. The fact is, more expertise ≠ more trust.

Most also believe that trust takes a long time to build and only a moment to destroy. In fact, trust takes about as long to destroy as it took to build—the time for each is a function of the depth of trust involved.

Both these beliefs—over-stating credibility and misunderstanding the speed of trust—are part of what I’ll call the Myth of Rational Trust. Simply stated, the myth says:

“The decision to trust is a conscious and cognitive process of weighing risks and returns, seeking the option most suited to increase the present value benefits of the one potentially doing the trusting.”

And monkeys fly.

How People Really Trust

People make decisions to trust, or not to trust, well before cognition can show up on the scene. Consider my immediate judgment that the Royal Canadian Mint had neglected to use spellcheck on its currency.

We make many trust decisions not on the basis of analytical criteria, but on the more autonomic instincts of whether something accords with deeply ingrained habits. Is he frowning or smiling? Is he holding out his hand to shake mine? Is ‘dollar’ spelled with one L or two?

Who was I to believe—my spelling instincts, honed since elementary school, or the Canadian government, with whom I have far less experience?  It was, pardon the pun, a no-brainer. I’m a very good speller; and I trust my instincts. Just like you do.  And if that meant Canadians couldn’t spell, I was for an instant willing to conclude that must be the case.

That is how the brain comes to trust.  In the case of currencies, the rational mind can quickly step in and say, “Wait a minute, are you kidding–how likely is that!? Does not compute. Hey, lying eyes, go take another look at that loonie bill.”

Easy enough when it comes to currencies.  But what happens when it comes to more complex phenomena? How do we come to trust in nurses, in salespeople—in politicians and institutions?

Lessons for Trusting

I recently saw an online comment to an economist’s article.  It started out, “I am open-minded, but when I got to your second sentence about the Bush tax cuts I quit reading—you are obviously a fool.”

Not open-minded at all—but neither are most of us.  We all have opinions on the issues du jour, and we dangerously tend to read only those who agree with us.

Which suggests that very few people’s minds are changed by confrontation with disconfirming data.

Instead, they are changed by the deeply-ingrained instincts we have come to rely on.

Personal Trust

In the personal-trust arena, our TQ research shows that the “intimacy” factor is the strongest of the four in the trust equation. Whether someone feels safe and secure sharing information with you is more powerful than your hard-won credentials, fancy slides and long list of past clients.  The saying, “People don’t care what you know until they know that you care” is not some idle sales line; it is deeply grounded in psychology.

A recent Wired story (Why Brains Get Creeped Out by Androids) suggests that we may trust robots doing people tasks, and we may trust people doing people tasks, but we get deeply suspicious if we see robots who look like people doing people tasks.  It has nothing to do with robots or tasks, but simply to an incongruity (“Wait, they’re not supposed to look like that, what’s going on here!?”)

How to be trusted? It lies in connection, focus, good will, hand shakes, empathy, listening, caring, bedside manner.  The road to hard trust is paved with soft skills.

Social Trust

How can Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation regain trust? Not by hiring a PR firm.  How can the US Congress recover from the debacle of its recent circular firing squad exercise? Not by more speeches.

The decision to trust often happens in an instant.  But that instant is just the reaction to a lifetime of conditioning experience.  If we are conditioned to think that all politicians are self-dealing bloviators, we didn’t get there overnight.

Trust takes as long to lose as to gain; and as long again to get it back. The answer to low trust in our companies and our institutions will not be found in quick hits, PR campaigns, new ideologies, changed incentives or new leadership.

It will come about as a natural result of sustained, across-the-board changes in beliefs, attitudes and behaviors. Companies actually have to behave responsibly; Congress actually has to make things work; advisors actually have to have their clients’ best interests at heart.  There is no quick fix. There is no reason to trust someone if they have created a history of being in it for themselves and untrustworthy.

But it can be done. Institutions used to be more trusted than they are now. We un-did that work, we can re-do it again.  And if we do, the instinct to trust can work as quickly as the instinct not to.

Who’s a Poor Murdoch to Trust?

Gregory (Scotland Yard detective): “Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?”

Holmes: “To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”

Gregory: “The dog did nothing in the night-time.”

Holmes: “That was the curious incident.”

Silver Blaze, The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Murdoch: This is the most humble day of my life…we have broken our trust with our readers…

Q: Do you accept you are ultimately responsible for this whole fiasco?

Murdoch: No.

Q: Have you considered resigning?

Murdoch: No. Because people I trusted let me down…and I am the best person to clean this up.

Mr. Rupert Murdoch, 19 July 2011, before a British Parliament Committee, ABC News

Rupert Murdoch claimed in his July 19 2011 British Parliament Committee appearance that “people he trusted” were responsible for the News of the World phone hacking scandal.

Can you say ‘cognitive disconnect?’ Few people in the word can simultaneously believe that a) Murdoch was not responsible for the hacking fiasco, b) he was done in by those whom he trusted, and c) that he nonetheless remains the best person to clean things up.

I sincerely doubt that Murdoch himself believes all three of those propositions.

And so we have yet another trust-destroying scandal, the principals posturing and spinning, and the public left asking, where is Sherlock Holmes when we need him–to ask why there was no barking dog at the scene of the crime.

And the answer is–just like in the Holmes story–because the watchdogs were very familiar with the crook whodunit.

The News Corp.hacking scandal has three points in common with most systemic failures of trust–think Enron, Watergate, and the recent financial crisis:

  1. “Leaders” who have a tendency to blame and an inability to confront;
  2. Corporate cultures based on secrecy and rules, not on virtues and values;
  3. The compromise of a social institution key to social trust.

Phony Leaders

Let me propose two ironclad indicators of bad leadership. First, one of my favorite gems from Phil McGee—most management problems, he feels, stem from a tendency to blame, and an inability to confront.

Rupert Murdoch’s brazenness of blaming, even in today’s climate, I still find breathtaking. It was “others” who betrayed him. Not his direct reports, of course, whom he says he trusts with his life. But “others.”

This is not new. Ken Lay and Jeffrey Skilling at Enron didn’t blame themselves, it was “others.” Ditto for Abu Ghraib in Iraq, Nixon at Watergate, and so on. Maybe the original blamethrower was King Henry II, who famously shouted, “Will no one rid me of this troublesome priest?” meaning Thomas Becket.

Someone of course did, and the King was conveniently left with what came to be known as ‘plausible deniability.’

When a “leader” moans that he has broken his public’s trust, and that this is the humblest day of his life—wait, wait for it—and then blames someone else, well, you’ve got an untrustworthy leader at the top.

The other indicator is the presence of the phrase “career-limiting move.” If that phrase is current in your company, it’s a canary in the mine for a lack of transparency. People get fired for saying or doing things they are “not supposed to say.” That is, the norm is silence, and the implied threat for speaking up is your career.

And if your company acronymizes it to CLM, double-trouble for you.

Bad Corporate Cultures

The best way to spot an untrustworthy corporate culture is to look at how it tries to be trustworthy.  If it relies on secrecy and threats, well, enough said.

But in addition, a culture that relies on laws, procedures, processes, rules and compliance—and little else—is in trouble.  Trustworthiness and ethical behavior are viewed in such cultures as just another set of rules to be gamed.  There’s a very thin line between “keep your nose clean” and “just don’t get caught,” and that line has a way of breaking down.

A corporate culture that fosters trust, by contrast, is almost certainly one that relies on virtues and values, and that preaches them all the time.

How does News Corp. stack up? Listen to this description from Andrew Ross Sorkin’s Dealbook column:

“This is a board that qualifies for an ‘F’ in every category,” Nell Minow, a member of the board of GovernanceMetrics International and founder of the Corporate Library, a governance firm, said without any hesitation. “It is the ultimate crony board.”

Transparency? Values? I don’t think so.

Which brings us to the third trait: a threat to societal institutions of trust.

Compromised Social Institutions

Watergate is, of course, the gold standard of corruption, the poster child for scandals.  How does the News Corp. scandal measure up?

Surprisingly well. That is, bad. Watergate compromised the US Justice Department, the White House, a major political party, and ultimately a President. But there was sort of a hero in that story—the press.

In the Murdoch case, the press is itself on trial.  And–so is Scotland Yard.  Right there, the players are bigger than in Watergate.  When the cops and the press are in cahoots, you have muscle backing up politics.  The rule of law is at stake.

Think I’m kidding?

Think about your perception of this case to date–even from media other than News Corp. I’ll bet your image is loaded with thrown pies, hacked phones, and trophy wives.  Speculation in the US media is focused on whether it will turn out that 9/11 victims’ phones were hacked.

Meanwhile, did you know that News Corp.’s News America Marketing subsidiary has paid out $655 million dollars to settle charges of corporate espionage and anticompetitive behavior—in the US?  Do you think Rupert Murdoch didn’t know about more than a half-billion dollars paid out that way?

Did you know that:

News America was led by Paul V. Carlucci, who, according to Forbes, used to show the sales staff the scene in “The Untouchables” in which Al Capone beats a man to death with a baseball bat.  Mr. Emmel testified that Mr. Carlucci was clear about the guiding corporate philosophy.

According to Mr. Emmel’s testimony, Mr. Carlucci said that if there were employees uncomfortable with the company’s philosophy — “bed-wetting liberals in particular was the description he used” Mr. Emmel testified — then he could arrange to have those employees “outplaced from the company.”

You might wonder what became of Mr. Carlucci? Rupert Murdoch appointed him head of the New York Post, calling him “without peer in the consumer advertising and marketing industry.” You know the New York Post: they’re the Murdoch paper that branded a New York hotel maid a hooker on the front page.  The story was hugely helpful to one Dominique Strauss-Kahn, but has not been verified by any other newspaper to date.

But I digress.  The problem is that the press wields enormous power, even in allegedly educated and refined countries.  So do the police.  And when Scotland Yard’s leadership, and even Downing Street appear compromised by an evil corporate culture like News Corp.’s, there are serious implications for society’s ability to trust anyone.

Who’s a poor Murdoch to trust? That’s what Rupert Murdoch would have you ask.

And if you can believe the nerve of his News Corp. empire and its culture, check this clip from Fox News.

Syndicated columnist Cal Thomas explains the phenomenon as “piling on…the left has been itching to get after News Corp. for years.”

Just another witch hunt, going after poor Mr. Murdoch. Makes you wonder if he paid the guy with the pie.

For the rest of us, keep your ears open. Emulate Sherlock Holmes.  Look for the barking dog, and when you don’t hear one—cry bloody murder, because someone has to.

Stewart’s and Colbert’s Joke is On the Media

When an institution can’t be trusted, yet cannot comprehend the message of distrust, then what you’ve got is a case of institutional denial.  Case in point: the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear.  The brainchild of The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart and his co-comedian Steven Colbert on cable television’s The Comedy Channel, the ‘Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear’ was a 2-hour stage version of the duo’s nightly TV shows.

Jon Stewart made it clear in publicity before the event that it was not a political rally.

For example, the opening of Larry King’s interview with Stewart:

KING: Is it a political rally?

STEWART: No. It is in fact not a political rally.

But the press was having none of it.

Before the event, the Washington Post’s Anne Applebaum wrote that ‘my heart sank’ when she heard the announcement because—according to her—it was a politically naïve attempt at liberals to declare themselves centrist, thus dooming both. Clearly a political rally, in her view.

Over at the New York Times, Tobin Harshaw’s Opinionator Blog wrote a post called “Jon Stewart on the Hustings,” overtly political lingo. (He gave the post three meta-tags: Jon Stewart, Politics, and Rallies).  Another disbeliever.

At Slate, Timothy Noah spoke about “Stewart-Colbertism,” and suggested “a more legitimate (and probably more successful) political impulse would be to try to persuade the unenlightened that you have a better idea.” Another media person, again insisting it was to be a political rally.

Even wry conservative David Brooks at the NYTimes said, “There’s a jump-the-shark danger here for Stewart and Colbert. After all when comedians stop being jesters they are notorious for jumping all the way over and becoming preachers, with no middle ground.” He, too, expected a political event.

Stewart Did What He Said He Would Do

Fast forward to the rally itself (and yes, I was there). More than anything, the rally was a three-hour (on-time start, on-time finish) theatrical version of the Daily Show itself, held outdoors in crisp autumn air, with what looked to me like a little over 200,000 of their fans.

At the rally itself, no candidates’ names were uttered. No legislation or causes were mentioned. Stewart and Colbert pointedly did not even call for people to vote.  In this, Stewart delivered exactly what he and Colbert had said they would: a non-political show about the theme of ‘sanity’ in our public dialogue.

What the Rally Was Really About

The rally was political in one sense—it was about meta-politics. It was about the language and the processes that we use to conduct politics. Stewart couldn’t have been more clear about this in his moving 12-minute summation: 

We can have animus and not be enemies. But unfortunately, one of the main tools in delineating the two broke. The country’s 24-hour politico-pundit-perpetual-conflictinator did not cause our problems, but its existence makes solving them that much harder.

The press can hold its magnifying glass up to our problems, bringing them into focus, illuminating issues heretofore unseen, or they can use that magnifying glass to light ants on fire and then perhaps host a week of shows on the sudden, unexpected flaming ant epidemic. If we amplify everything, we hear nothing.

The press is our immune system. If it overreacts to everything, we actually get sicker…

The image of Americans that is reflected back to us by our political and media process is false.

We work together to get things done every damn day…the only place we don’t is here [gestures to the Capital building] or on cable TV.

I kept a running tab of the signs I saw–see my list here. I’d say maybe 2% were overtly political (e.g. pro-Obama, support Democrats); another 10% were culturally-political (“think outside the Fox”), and 10% were anarchic (“this is a sign”). The remaining 78% or so were exactly in line with what Stewart said the rally was about: sanity in public dialogue.  Prototypical signs were:

* What do we want? Incremental change for the betterment of society! When do we want it? As soon as is reasonably practical.

* Hyperbole is murdering America.

* Everyone poops (drawings of elephant and donkey pooping).

It was only four years ago that Stewart skewered CNN’s Crossfire, with Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson. His first words were, “Why do you argue, the two of you?” He went on to say, “I’m here to confront you, because we need help from the media—and they’re hurting us.”

And for 14 hilarious, painful minutes, Carlson and Begala could not believe he was serious.  But he was.

Not much has changed in those four years.  Because even after the rally, most of the press still missed the point.

The Press Still Doesn’t Get the Joke

The day after the event, the New York Times’ opening paragraph on the story called it “a political event,” and a "Democratic Rally." Fox News, which put the words “non-political” in quotes in its headline before the event, forced the political spin on it after the fact, saying “Dems Can’t Ride Stewart’s Wave.”

There are exceptions: Time Magazine got it right, saying, “The major target here was the media.

But for the most part, the media has a hard time getting what Geoffrey Baym, a University of North Carolina at Greensboro professor, had to say about it before the rally:

"What he’s really calling for is not the election of Democrats or the defeat of Republicans; he’s calling for a rethinking of the way we talk about politics, and that has really broad appeal. People are feeling very left out by the contemporary political system."

When Jesters Tell the Truth, Smart Kings Listen 

In the Capitol building that Stewart gestured toward from his non-political podium, the once-rare filibuster has become commonplace. Parties are increasingly explicit that their sole goal is to defeat the other party. 

And the media are a huge enabler. Newspapers and magazines are dying a not-so-slow death, cutting editorial staff, desperately trying to find viability in a digital world that is cheaper and that insists on atomizing content. The slow disappearance of ‘middle of the road’ CNN between the opposing power of rightist-Fox and leftist-MSNBC in the broadcast realm is testimony to the ascendance of adversarial journalism.

The recent villification and condemnation of Shirley Sherrod for remarks taken out of context (through selective editing) is a horrific example of relying on an extended network of unverified news sources. The speed with which both government and press alike rushed to judgment is a wake-up call for how fragile credibility has become.

The ultimate irony is the inability of politicians and the media itself to hear Stewart’s message.  It is traditionally the court jester to whom we look to speak the truth; but what do you do when the object of the joke, the court itself, doesn’t get it?

I’d say the joke’s on us all–and it’s not funny. In fact–as Stewart keeps trying to insist–it’s serious.  Very serious.

Public trust in both government and media is plummeting.  A recent Gallup poll showed Congress dead last among 16 institutions, with TV news and newspapers rated little better.  As long as both institutions stay in denial and ignore the strong messages of distrust they are both sending out, expect us all to reap the social consequences of broken trust, which look like this:

  • Longer time to reach decisions–social, legal, economic
  • Lack of commitment to decisions jointly made–by states, counties, towns, and citizens
  • More lawyers, laws, lawsuits, and costly court cases
  • More broken agreements, arrests, jailings, police, prison populations
  • Less value added, more transaction costs spent arguing over the distribution of value
  • More accounting, studies, data, commissions, statistics, records
  • More pessimism, anger, psychiatric disorders, depressions, medication
  • More fragmented citizenry, more acrimony, less agreement with neighbors
  • Less commitment to group initiatives–infrastructure, education, transportation
  • A gradual withdrawal into narrower and narrower sectarian interest groups.

The court jester is the canary in the cage, giving us all fair warning of what could be.

Radio Interview with Charles H. Green: Trust and Business

Monday night I was the guest on an hour-long radio show on PBS Station KCBX, in San Luis Obispo, California. The program is Trust in America, hosted by program director Guy Rathbun, with guest host Charles Feltman, of Insight Coaching

This was part two of a three-part program; part 1 was trust in government; part 3 will be Trust in Media. I was the guest for the segment on Trust in Business.

The interview was one of the better I’ve been invited to. Host Feltman teed up issues like:

·    the difference between trust, trusting and being trustworthy (3:00);

·    trust in corporations, vs. trust in business (5:30);

·    should we distrust corporations (11:30);

·    how you can build a more trustworthy organization (14:30)

·    the root of mistrust in business (20:00);

·    what influences citizens have over businesses (32:00);

·    economics of trust, trust and timeframe (38:30);

·    systemic effects of shift from relationships to transactions (43:00);

·    customer relationships and trust (52:30).

The show was broadcast live, and we had 3-4 callers contributing to the show.

If you like audio files; if you’d like to hear me instead of just read me; or if you want to hear a good discusison about trust–then listen to the mp3 file of this interview.

Trust and New Media: Request for Favorite Stories

I’m giving a talk in a few days to a large software company about trust and new social media.  I want to use examples to demonstrate the power of social media to increase trust–and to destroy it.

I’ve got several, but would love to hear from you.  What are some examples of trust creation or destruction involving new social media that you consider to be important, archetypal, paradigmatic (or any other big impressive adjective)?

Please add your stories via comments below: it could be a really interesting list we all could benefit from.

Thank you!

Blogging vs. Podcasting

Some time ago, Suzanne Lowe published a posting called The Myth of Intellectual Capital.  In it, she commented on a talk by Paul Dunay  , Bearingpoint’s Director of Global Field Marketing.

According to Lowe, Dunay sang the praises of podcasting over blogging, on the grounds that it required less time.

According to Dunay, who then commented, he was merely pointing out the higher return on investment of publicizing content.

Alan Weiss also chimed in, saying “First, it’s blogging, then podcasting, then video, then something else, with each one expected to take over the world.”

But it’s not a he-said she-said thing.  And contrary to Weiss, much more is at stake here than the latest fad and flavor of the day.

There are distinct parts of the human decision making process; and different media drop into different slots in that process. That’s true for old media, and for new as well.

Podcasts are aptly named. Like their cousins “broad-“ and “narrow-“, they are one-to-many media—non-interactive even in audiences of one.
Podcasts are also consumed in very constrained time limits—a 120-second podcast is going to take—approximately—120-seconds for someone to listen to.

Blogs are more interactive—you can hit “comment” right now in response to this blog, and get the instant gratification associated with seeing “you moron Charlie!” pop up and knowing it can be read in Thailand—right now!

We can also read at varying speeds, including—frequently—a whole lot faster than listening.  And the reader controls the speed.

Over to buyers.  Buyers want many many things, and at different times in their decision-making process. Sometimes they want to interact; sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they want information; sometimes they want visual and aural assurance.

If you’re selling to someone with a buying process more complex than getting a #4 at Burger King, you’ll want to match distinct parts of the buyer’s decision-making process with access to distinct media that help the buyer decide.

It’s not a trivial exercise, anymore than is a decision to buy billboards or broadcast TV or newspaper is for an ad agency serving any client.

Politicians are still sorting this out too. Watching on television as sound-bite based politicians “respond” to blown-up computer screens showing YouTube clips is a crazy mash-up.  Enough to make you agree with Alan Weiss that it’s all a popularity contest.

Except it’s not.  Smart politicians—and other sellers—will integrate media, using each for what it’s best at.

Kennedy didn’t beat Nixon just because Nixon looked bad on TV; TV was part of the package.  And people distrust the absence of a coherent package more than any particular package per se.  

Transparency, News Media and the NBA

What do news media and the NBA have in common?

If you guessed a trust problem, go to the head of the class.

So it’s interesting to see two pieces within a day of each other, suggesting the same solution to the respective industries’ woes.

Henry Abbott, in What the NBA Needs: Transparency offers a radical suggestion:

the crisis is if all those people who love watching the NBA find themselves in the position of not trusting the referees. That’s an indictment of the game itself…

The NBA keeps telling us how many ways they assess their referees. They insinuate that if we knew what they know, we’d trust those referees, too. Maybe that’s true. But telling us so isn’t going to convince anyone.

NBA, you’re going to have to show us.

… Let us go online after every single game and see video of every single call, all neatly sliced and diced by player, by time of game, by type of call, by referee, and by a bunch of other things I haven’t thought of yet.

Henry makes an important point about transparency—it’s hard to be partly transparent, because being partly transparent immediately suggests you’re hiding something. Call that a negative feedback loop. Don’t tell us—show us.

Alicia Shepard at the Chicago Tribune writes For News Media, Transparency Is a Matter of Trust, saying:

Poll after poll, year after year, the message is the same: Journalists are ranked down with used-car salesmen and snake-oil peddlers when it comes to credibility.

Is it because reporters lie? Is it because reporters make so many mistakes? Or because reporters are biased?

No. It’s because the public does not understand what journalists do or how the news gets put together, whether it’s for TV, print, radio or the Internet.

… The news industry should work harder at exhibiting the same transparency about how it operates that it demands from public corporations and all levels of government.

…. "Transparency is essential because it’s inextricably tied to credibility," said Susan Moeller, director of the International Center for Media and the Public Agenda. "Transparency doesn’t ensure accuracy. But it does ensure that when a news outlet makes a mistake … its audience can be assured that the news outlet is going to admit to it and correct it and will have policies in place for following it up."

Several other industries look at the same diagnosis—“the public does not understand us”—and conclude they have a PR problem, solvable by “getting the word out.”

NBA fans and media hounds know that won’t cut it. Transparency is not great spin—it’s a spin-free zone.

In our personal lives, the solution to mistrust is to “come clean,” “let it all hang out,” “just put it out there,” “tell the whole truth.” Be transparent.

At an industry level, the same dynamics are at play.