The word trust is a buzzword in many ways overused in organizations. It is so much more than that. In many ways trust is a foundation for all things. Trust is the assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something. Trust is key to having a solid reputation.
You can look at trust two ways. One way is that trust is earned. The other is trust is given until it it taken away. Once trust is broken it is hard to recover. This shouldn’t be taken lightly by public relations professionals. And it shouldn’t be taken lightly by the media. Both professionals are bound by ethics where public trust is paramount.
Yet, distrust of the media is at an all-time high according to a recent Gallup poll with 60% surveyed sharing that they have little or no trust in the mass media to report the news fully, accurately, and fairly. There have been reports of plagiarism, fabrication and unethical recycling. Most recently by a Cape Cod Times reporter who is suspected of fabrication for over a decade. Not only was public trust broken, but the trust between a reporter and their editor.
This concerns me as someone who is both a practicing public relations professional and a newspaper columnist. Public trust is key. Journalists and public relations professionals provide important functions in making sure the flow of communications to the public is free and clear. The public relies on us to provide them with unbiased, fully researched information.
I’m with Craig Silverman’s opinion piece on Poyner.org on the need for transparency leading to better guidelines. News organizations can’t sweep plagiarism, fabrication and unethical recycling under the carpet with vague statements regarding the incidents. By not addressing the issues, they are not keeping the trust of the public. The editor and publisher of the Cape Cod Times took on the issue of their reporter’s serial fabrications head on. They addressed it a frank and upfront manner. They took responsibility and did not place blame elsewhere. They exhibited leadership.
They took a page out of good crisis communications response. They hit upon on the “Do’s” of handling a crisis which are:
■ Tell the truth
■ Release only confirmed facts
■ Show concern
■ Defuse negatives
■ Remain calm
■ Provide newsworthy updates
How they reacted to this situation will go a long way in regaining public trust. And serves as model to other news outlets as how to handle trust busting situations.