help_outline Skip to main content
Add Me To Your Mailing List
HomeBlogsRead Blog

Perspectives Blog

The Media Trend that Matters Most: Trust
By Minnesota PRSA Admin
Posted on 7/2/2019 4:00 PM
By Mo Schriner, PhD

Logan Paul? Who in the world is Logan Paul?

The first time I saw the name “Logan Paul” was on Google's Year in Search 2018. The name was listed as one of the year’s most searched people on Google at No. 4 – below No. 3 Brett Kavanaugh and ahead of No. 5 Khloe Kardashian.

Google’s list of most searched people is important not because of the power of the individuals, but the power of the publisher. I had never heard of Logan Paul because my primary trusted media sources don’t provide information about “the Goofy dude,” as Logan describes himself on his Twitter bio.

YouTube is the media source and primary publisher for Logan Paul – and it’s not on my go-to daily news media sources.

Logan Paul represents the Wild Wild West of our media landscape today. He is a 20-something from a suburb of Cleveland made famous by videos he posted on Vine and YouTube. He has millions of followers on various social media channels and has made millions in ad revenue and merchandise sales by leveraging his follower-dom. His “goofy dude” description does not capture the bizarre, attention-seeking content he produces, which another famous YouTuber called “sociopathic garbage fire.”

The rise of Logan to one of the most searched people on Google, made rich and famous on social media by behaviors distinctly outside the mainstream, illustrates the one media trend that matters most: Which media do we trust - and which media do we not trust.

Digging into trust factors brings clarity to the picture of our media environment now and into the future. The issue of trust – or distrust – in media shapes how we think about, consume and react to media, as well as how we contribute in creating and sharing content.

5 Key Takeaways about Trust – and Distrust – in Media

1. We have a crisis of trust
We have a problem with trust that is redefining who we are. The “we” that I’m referencing are we the people of the United States of America, who are on track to form a much less perfect union by no longer trusting institutions.

Historically, the U.S. has experienced cycles of distrusting government. Vietnam protests in the 1960s and Watergate in the 1970s are contemporary flashpoints of distrust in government. But considering that the revolutionists in colonial times were motivated by distrust of British government, America was founded on distrust in government. The issue today is institutions of all sorts – education, religion, corporations, media, etc. – have had a serious decline in trust.

“The United States is enduring an unprecedented crisis of trust.” That statement, by Edelman’s president and CEO, summarized the findings of the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer, an annual global survey by one of the world’s largest public relations firms about various aspects of trust. The irony of the trust crisis, as the report noted, is it is occurring at a time when the U.S. economy is measuring record-high stock markets and record-low unemployment rates.

To put media distrust into context, Gallup surveys show the decades-long decline: 68 percent of Americans expressed trust in media in 1968 and it remained around 70 percent in 1972 and 1974, during the Watergate period. But by 2016, American trust in media hit an all-time low of 32 percent. It’s since rebounded to 45 percent, which varies widely among different demographic groups.

The cause of the crisis is the lack of truth, according to Edelman’s analysis. About two in three people surveyed said they couldn’t tell the difference between good journalism or falsehoods and are unable to identify the truth. When we don’t know who or what to believe, we stop trusting.

The decline in trust in institutions opens opportunities for Logan Paul-type personalities to gain credibility – and gain media attention – by situating themselves outside the mainstream and those distrusted institutions. There’s a reason Logan’s merchandise carries the brand “Maverick” and features hoodies.

2. It matters who is telling the story
Media influence revolves around the process of storytelling, and it matters who tells the story, what the story is and how the story is told. The wonky way to look at this is through communication research in three areas:
• Agenda setting – media tells us what to think about
• Priming – media sets the stage and context for how we understand issues
• Framing – media shapes how we perceive issues

Whether people searching Logan Paul’s name love him or hate him, he is setting the agenda, setting the stage and context for issues, and shaping perceptions on issues via YouTube.

The mogul publishers of social media are YouTube and Facebook. YouTube has inched out Facebook as the leader, although both are far more popular than any other social media sites, according to Pew Center Research surveys. Agenda setting includes advertising, as YouTube, along with other media companies owned by Google, vies with Facebook in controlling the vast majority of online advertising.

The lines distinguishing media that is news and information, and news that is entertainment, have been blurring for decades. The lines essentially disappeared, when in 2009 a Time online poll found the most trusted newscaster in America among the younger age groups was late-night comedy talk show host Jon Stewart.

The lines now acting as parameters defining our media environment are the deep divisions among media consumers in what media we trust.

3. We don’t share the same stories
Despite all the sharing of stories on social media, we don’t share the same stories. There are numerous deep divisions among media consumers.

Edelman’s surveys on trust have distinguished between “informed” publics and “mass” publics. Informed publics are defined by four criteria: age 25-64, college educated, household income within the top 25 percent per age group in each market, and self-reported significant media consumption and engagement in business news and public policy. Edelman has tracked a persistent gap, with mass publics having far less trust in institutions than informed publics, although informed publics have also experienced declining trust levels.

The divide of informed/ mass publics shouldn’t be translated to mean mass publics do not consume media. Rather, they are more likely to turn to non-institutional or non-traditional sources of news and information. One Gallup survey found whites were significantly more likely than Hispanics or Blacks to believe media were biased and to not trust media. In the 18-29 age group, only one in three expressed confidence in the media over the past decade, the lowest of any age group, according to another Gallup. Where does that age group get its news? On social media.

When it comes to political media, the divide in trust is driven by both political leanings and media preferences. The Washington Post’s recent Fact Checker Poll confirmed the stereotype of audiences, CNN was primarily cited as credible by Democrat-leaning media consumers while Fox News was cited primarily by Republican-leaning.

Do newsmakers sway the media agenda, or do media publishers sway newsmakers’ agenda? Research has show influence can go both ways. For example, an innovative study in the Journal of Politics tracked the spread of Fox News Channel across the U.S. in the 1990s and found the cable news channel did affect members of Congress in the positions they took. The placement of Logan Paul as No. 4 most searched person in 2018 is an example of a newsmaker influencing the agenda of the media publisher.

Actual media consumption adds important context to explaining the media divide. A summary of the most watched TV networks in 2018, by Indie Wire, reveals shifts among consumers of television. Fox News had 2.5 million viewers, a slight increase from 2017, while CNN had fewer than one million viewers, which continued its downward slide from 2017. Based on Nielsen ratings, the Indie Wire report also showed the traditional networks of NBC, ABC and CBS, respectively, in the top three spots, but the networks admit their hold on audiences is tenuous.

The more telling shift, as Indie Media noted, is that family shared TV viewing is a thing of the past. The media divide is further extended by digital advertising, in which marketers target micro niche markets and ensure we don’t share the same stories via advertising either.

4. We are all trusting social media less
One aspect in common among Americans is we are all trusting social media less. Social media is the leader at the top of the trust crisis, according to the Edelman Trust Barometer, with significant increases in negative opinions about social media globally.

Facebook and Google, the top publishers of media worldwide, continue to offer open platforms for publishing with minimal standards of community, ethical or social norms, which allows content producers like Logan Paul to draw audiences with obscene and indecent content.

Although, as Engadget reports, there are now “editors” at YouTube charged with putting more restrictions on content creators such as Logan Paul. But the censoring has given the YouTube celebrity yet another opportunity to promote his lurid content, as noted in his recent tweet, “i age restricted my party vlog @YouTube see im responsible.”

Government regulation may be the next step. Big Tech is engaged in a Big Political Debate about regulation, such as proposed legislation reported on by The Verge. Even Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg has agreed some regulation is needed, although that path may not be clear until after the 2020 elections.

5. Solving the Equation: Trusted media = local media + transparent media
A final takeaway in exploring our trust – and distrust – of media is optimism in two key indicators. The first is that Americans trust their local TV and newspapers in delivering credible news. A survey by the Poynter Institute found three in four people trusted their local news media. But they have far less trust in national news media. Republicans had a wider gap than Democrats in trusting local and distrusting national news.

The trust in local and distrust in national follows the same pattern found in Fenno's Paradox, note the Poynter survey authors. Fenno’s Paradox is a phenomenon in which Americans express strong distrust and disapproval for Congress as a whole yet continue to re-elect their own congressional representative. Likewise, we express distrust of national media, but when it comes to local news or individual journalists, we trust.

The problem is local media is in sharp decline as the advertising revenue local TV and newspapers depended upon shifts to Google and Facebook. The Knight Foundation, with an endowment built upon a newspaper empire that has since crumbled, is a national leader in advocating for local media to “make our democracy stronger.” The foundation is supporting 12 organizations with a variety of missions to strengthen local reporting.

The second indicator of optimism is that a majority of Americans are willing to rebuild trust in news media. The Media Insights Projects conducted a study that identified points of miscommunication between the public and journalists. For example, more than half of people surveyed did not understand the meaning of the term “op ed.” (FYi – here's a good definition of that journalism term, and others, from the Des Moines Register.) Alternatively, 63 percent of those surveyed said they’d prefer news coverage with more facts and less analysis, and 66 percent of journalists surveyed said that’s what they expect to do in their reporting.

Trust rebuilding, says a report by Axios, will depend on media delivering news and information with greater transparency. That includes revealing advertising revenue sources.

Transparency is a lesson all sources of information – and institutions – could improve upon. It is core to moving people from distrust to trust.

Mo Schriner, PhD, is co-chair of the Minnesota PRSA Communications Committee and a communications consultant based in Eagan. She has a portfolio career of 20+ years of work in communications (mo@531media.com)
Leave a Comment
 *