Last month, I wrote that a strategy of non-engagement with the mainstream media by Jeremy Corbyn would be a mistake. Data from the Edelman Trust Barometer study suggests that being seen to engage your audiences through the media is more important than whether the resultant pieces are good or bad:
“Audiences will reward those leaders who stand up for what they believe in, tackle their critics head-on and fight for support, regardless of whether they succeed with a particular journalist. Leaders who only talk to their own supporters or natural constituents aren’t really leaders.”
Now, writing in the Guardian, Peter Preston highlights a recent study of US politics, which reinforces the point. He says:
“Here’s John Sides, associate professor of political science at George Washington University, writing in the Washington Post. “Tone of coverage appears to matter much less than the volume,” he says. “Statistical models that try to account for potential inter-relationships between media coverage and polls show that the volume of [US Presidential wannabe Donald] Trump’s coverage is helping to drive his poll numbers, and vice versa. But the tone of coverage has no apparent relationship to poll numbers, once you account for volume.””
It’s the fact that Trump is out there engaging the media, making an argument and addressing the wider US electorate that is driving his strong performance in the polls – not the slant that journalists are putting on it (and Trump has as many cheerleaders as critics in the US media). Declining Trust in traditional sources of authority is hitting the media’s ability to shape Trust just as hard as it is hitting politicians’ ability to earn it, but it is essential that the public understands who you are and what you stand for, if you are to have any chance of winning their confidence. Mass communication through mainstream media is still the most important tool available to leaders.