There may be an easy way to find out: review it.
Edelman measures trust in institutions every year for its globally-renowned Trust Barometer. By that measure alone, trust in what we call traditional media is in pretty good shape (around 2/3rd of people say they trust the media as a whole to “do the right thing”). That result stands in contrast to very low scores for social media (trusted by about a quarter of adults) and search engines such as Google (about 40% trust them).
But the Edelman trust scores hide an unpleasant truth: not every news organisation is equally trusted. Newspapers score far lower in more detailed studies than broadcasters do. Both Edelman and the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism have found trust levels for the press around the 20% mark across the board, with a range of under 10% for popular press titles to around 55% for the quality end – what the former editor of The Sun Kelvin MacKenzie called “the unpopular press” because of their relatively low circulation.
By the end of this year, however, there is one area of trust in “media” which I suspect will have plumbed lower depths than the lowliest tabloid: online reviews. Hardly a week passes without some scandal emerging of “review farms” in various parts of the world which have been paid to write five-star reviews of products made by obscure manufacturers. Even the most popular of retail sites have been affected. Going online to buy a screen protector today underlined to me how hard it is to know who to trust.
There ought to be an obvious answer: journalists. Unlike anonymous reviewers they have names, they have accountability and, one hopes, they have no financial incentive to fabricate opinions.
There could be a double benefit to being able to promote themselves as the trusted home of reviews, either by devoting newsroom resources to the job or appointing panels of established readers – I would suggest nobody who has not got a subscription or other paid relationship with the news organisation ought to be engaged in this.
First, it would be a good driver of traffic and/or subscriptions; second, it would provide evidence that the whole industry of news journalism can be regarded as a professional, safe and reliable source of information that readers value. News you can use, is the industry cliché.
The wisdom of the village that the internet initially promised has turned into two things we neither need nor want: a howling sphere of undesirable opinions and an incubator of corrupt relationships between anonymous promoters and unscrupulous sellers.
For the news industry reeling from assaults all around on its reputation, being a verifiable home of “trusted reviews” would be one step on the road to salvation and protection.
They could even review each other. (Can. Of. Worms.)