Do’s and Don’ts When Managing Your Online Reputation

managing your online reputation

 

By Julie Wright —President
Twitter: @juliewright

I recently had the opportunity to hear from Jon Goldberg of Reputation Architects on managing your online reputation. The occasion was the PRSA Western District Conference in Phoenix, April 11 and 12 where I spoke on a storytelling panel.

Goldberg is a seasoned public relations and reputation strategist advising Fortune 500 clients as Chief Reputation Architect with his firm, specialists in managing your online reputation and offline as well.

I learned about many different landmines lurking on the web. The risks run from websites that post damaging content and then charge fees to remove it to consultants who cut corners to suppress damaging search engine results.

Goldberg shared story after story of reputation management gone awry as well as best practices to follow for managing your online reputation.

If you find yourself the subject of an Internet nastygram, Goldberg advised that you have three options:

1. Ignore It

When emotions are running high, it’s hard for people to keep their cool and put things in perspective. However, ignoring damaging content online is often the best strategy. More on this below.

2. Hide It

Through the publication of a large volume of search-optimized content, you can seek to overwhelm the negative result in search engine rankings. Search algorithms are wise to these strategies so attempting to game the system can raise Google’s suspicion.

“The idea is to publish a steady stream of high-quality content, which over time will push negative search results off the first page. Attempting to game the system by pumping out low-quality content and questionable links, a technique used by many black-hat SEO companies, will just lead to a bigger and potentially more embarrassing mess in organic search,” said Goldberg.

3. Make it Disappear

If you want to make a negative search result vanish forever, you also have only three options: ask nicely, threaten the publisher or sue.

Threatening or suing both risk angering the outlet. For instance, if you’re a Fortune 1000 company targeting a small publisher or individual, the David-and-Goliath narrative will give your brand a black eye. Suing is risky because libel, slander, defamation and other such allegations are difficult to prove to the courts.

Avoid the Streisand Effect

Goldberg shared a few examples of online reputation management gone horribly wrong. One very interesting example is what has become known as the Streisand Effect. It refers to a situation where Barbra Streisand’s Malibu home was photographed in a public database of coastal lands. She sued the photographer to have her home removed from the database. From Wikipedia:

Before Streisand filed her lawsuit, “Image 3850” had been downloaded from Adelman’s website only six times; two of those downloads were by Streisand’s attorneys. As a result of the case, public knowledge of the picture increased greatly; more than 420,000 people visited the site over the following month.

Sometimes confrontation attracts even more unwanted attention and ignoring the content is the best course.

So, how do you legitimately suppress an unfortunate online mention?

“Good content is the answer to bad content,” said Goldberg.

Publishing good content that attracts significant views and inbound links from other reputable sites with high domain authority is the answer.

Look to PR for Managing Your Online Reputation

Goldberg’s message perfectly echoed the sentiment presented by another of the conference’s speakers, Gini Dietrich. Dietrich is founder and CEO of marketing communications firm Arment Dietrich in Chicago. She is also lead blogger at the PR and marketing blog Spin Sucks. She urged public relations practitioners to lean into PR’s power for producing credible, high-ranking online content.

Working with media outlets to get that content published with an optimized inbound hyperlink are the key to raising search engine visibility for good content.

Both Dietrich and Goldberg warned that there are many underqualified and ill-equipped service providers who are encroaching on what should be PR’s domain (reputation management and story pitching and placement). These unscrupulous SEO consultants would have companies believe that reputations and rankings can be bought cheap.

However, the outcomes produced by these firms look cheap and cheapen your reputation. They’ll generate gibberish articles, plagiarized or generic content, and black hat SEO techniques that can get you blacklisted from review sites.

It reminds me of my advice to young PR practitioners: there are no PR shortcuts. The same is true for managing your online reputation, not to mention your offline reputation.

Reputation management is like a game of chutes and ladders. It takes a lot of work and many years to build up your reputation but only minutes and one mistake to tear it down.

Don’t be fooled into thinking your reputation online is any different.

Four Reasons Publicist is a Dirty Word

 

By Julie Wright —President
Twitter: @juliewright


Has your mom ever used your childhood nickname in front of your adult friends? That’s how I feel when someone uses the term publicist or publicity to describe my work.

Generating positive media coverage is definitely among the many functions performed by a public relations professional. But the word “publicist” says nothing of the research, strategy, messaging and many other thoughtful, and even artful, activities that go into a successful public relations program. The word, in my opinion, minimizes my work.

For that reason, I would like to see “publicist” buried next to “flack” and “spin doctor.”

Public relations professionals are strategic communicators.

Two years ago, PRSA’s 2017 Chair, Jane Dvorak, addressed the PRSA Western District Conference in Riverside, Calif. urging attendees to see themselves as leaders, strategists and analysts. To my ear, “publicist” is a label that says none of those things. Two years later, I continue to hear this term applied to describe work that is only about 10-20 percent producing media coverage.

If you’re not convinced that “publicist” needs to go, give these four points careful consideration, and let me know if they help change your thinking. (If you already agree, these may help you convert or at least educate others.)

1. Publicists Produce Transactions. PR Pros Build Relationships.

We work in a very transactional environment today. Marketing and communications outcomes are boiled down to clicks, likes, links and conversions, but the stakeholders who need to receive your messages are not clicks and conversions—they’re real human beings who crave meaningful emotional connections with other real human beings.

This absolutely includes journalists.

Media databases like Cision and Meltwater make it much easier to build a big list than a targeted one. Journalists become email addresses and not people. Instead of building a relationship with the media, this transactional approach plays a numbers game. Ultimately, when the media gripes about getting a PR pitch addressed to the wrong name or that’s a country mile off the mark, it’s because they’re not being communicated to as human beings.

Public relations requires building understanding, changing perceptions and motivating behaviors and beliefs. Those kinds of outcomes need a relational versus transactional approach, which requires understanding your audiences and treating them as humans. This can be accomplished through surveys, interviews and focus groups and using that information to create personas.

Publicity is just too limiting a term to encompass these approaches.

2. Publicity is a Tactic. Public Relations Requires Strategy.

As public relations professionals, we can’t fulfill our role and responsibilities with a tactical mindset. We must think strategically.

From research to message development and testing to creative—strategy drives the choices we make, and those choices drive our campaign results. Did we communicate in a manner that earned our audience’s attention and resonated with them so that their perceptions, beliefs and behaviors were impacted?

I equate publicity with none of the above. Instead, I picture someone producing a bunch of press clippings which is useful if stroking your client’s ego is the only goal of your campaign.

3. A Publicist’s Communication is One-Way. PR Requires Listening.

There is far more pitching, posting and publishing than listening on social media and the web these days. I like the term coined by Mark Schaefer five years ago, Content Shock, to sum up the impact of content marketing run rampant. Schaefer pointed out then how the pace and volume of content being produced far exceeded the pace and volume of content being consumed.

Anyone today who is pushing content or a message without creating a way for the recipient to engage, respond and be heard is missing a huge opportunity to build relationships.

Communicators who create space for their stakeholders to be heard are the ones doing it right. When a crisis hits, they’ll be able to engage in conversations with their customers or investors rather than an avalanche of angry or outraged Tweets and Facebook posts.

The brands that weather crises more easily than others are those that have built relationships and goodwill with their stakeholders. And those are the brands being stewarded by strategic communicators and not publicists.

4. Publicity is About Earned Media. Public Relations Crosses All Media.

A decade ago, traditional media outlets underwent an implosion, while podcasts, online videos, blogs and social media storytelling platforms exploded. In the aftermath of these two trends, traditional media gatekeepers like the daily newspaper or evening newscast have lost their ability to influence public perception at scale.

Earned media was once the bread and butter of the public relations function, but today, it is just one of several communication platforms our profession employs to reach and engage with its stakeholders.

The contemporary integrated approach, sometimes referred to as the PESO Model, combines paid, earned, shared and owned media. Paid media can include social media ads and boosting or Google AdWords. Earned media includes press coverage but can include analyst relations, awards and speaking opportunities that imply and/or impart third-party validation. Shared media refers to social networks like Facebook but also review sites like TripAdvisor and Yelp. Owned media describes all of the creative assets at your disposal to engage your audiences and to interact with them directly including print, digital and multimedia content.

Publicity is a component of only one of those four platforms, making it an inadequate label for describing what today’s strategic communicators do.

So, Let’s Retire the Term Publicist and Champion the Role of Strategic Communicator.

It’s time to toss this transactional, tactical, and out-of-touch term. It’s old school and perpetuates a narrow stereotype of what public relations today actually is. Publicity is about as apropos to what my team and I do every day at (W)right On Communications as my childhood nickname is to my adult identity. Now, if only I could get my mom to stop calling me Oobies.

PR professionals can use 360° cameras for visual storytelling

360 Degree Visual Storytelling

 

By Julie Wright —President
Twitter: @juliewright


We recently moved our San Diego head office into a beautiful new space. I couldn’t wait to share it with the world. There was just one problem. Our new setting needed to be experienced rather than described or shown. Words either fell flat or came off as braggadocious and standard photos and video weren’t capturing the scene I wanted to depict.

How could I share our agency story so people could experience virtually what our team was experiencing in real life?

Inspired by a recent journalism presentation I attended on immersive storytelling, I realized that, as a PR professional, I could use 360° cameras for visual storytelling too—in fact, a 360° camera was probably the perfect solution for my quandary. So, I began browsing Amazon for options and settled on the Samsung Gear 360.

For $99, this camera shoots in 4K, has a microphone and takes photos and videos plus time lapse, live video and HDR landscape images. It has two lenses–one in the front and the other in the rear. You can shoot from just one lens  for an extra wide angle, panoramic-style still or video. When you use both lenses, the camera’s software stitches the images captured by each lens together to create a seamless 360° view of your surroundings.

Why Go With a 360° Cameras for Visual Storytelling?

Visual storytelling is more important than ever. In the information economy, the scarcest commodity is attention, and visuals are the most economical vehicle for communicators to get their points across.

That’s because the brain can process visual information—or at least recognize a concept—in as little as 13 milliseconds, according to MIT research released in 2014. (By comparison, it takes 400 milliseconds to blink an eye.)

Through strategic design, motion graphics and video, today’s storytellers can convey a message or create a feeling in their target audience “at a glance”—and a glance may be all you have. The visual draws your audience’s attention and makes them care long enough to read the rest of your message or material. Additionally, visual content is highly correlated with recall. An audience exposed only to text or spoken word could recall 10 to 20 percent of the content after three days. With visuals, audience recall rose to an average of 65 percent. (For more on visual storytelling, check out our most recent newsletter.)

There’s a hierarchy at work: still images outperform text, motion graphics outperform still images, video outperforms motion graphics and live experiences outperform video. As an experiential form of video,  360° cameras for visual storytelling can bridge that gap between stills, videos and experiences.

Social media stories (videos with animated gifs and virtual reality filters like Snapchat’s and Instagram’s) illustrate this hierarchy perfectly as they have nearly overtaken traditional feed posts as the new preferred medium for social sharing.

And news outlets have embraced 360° storytelling too with The New York Times, Associated Press and others using this technology to immerse their readers and viewers in their reports from the field.

360° Cameras Are Not Just for Photographers

Don’t be afraid to use this technology. I wouldn’t call myself a technophile by any stretch of the imagination. I hate reading user manuals and expect my tech to be intuitive to use right out of the box. That said, the instructions for the Samsung Gear 360 were straightforward and easy to digest.

After charging the device; I downloaded the app on my Samsung S9 (an iPhone app is also available), inserted a memory card (sold separately), connected my phone via Bluetooth and started taking photos and videos using my phone to control the device and to store the images too.

Learn By Doing

You’ll want to get familiar with the camera’s features. Give yourself the opportunity to learn what works and how to get the best images when you’re not under pressure or on the clock. Set aside some time and space to play with your new toy. You’ll quickly see for yourself what each mode can do. Below are some examples that I shot from our San Diego and Los Angeles offices and a few from my summer visit to Honolulu:

360° Photo: Using One Lens Only for a Panoramic Effect

(W)right On La Jolla Panorama
This panoramic image was created in the Landscape HDR mode which uses only one lens but takes multiple pictures at different exposures and combines them to create more intense 180° or 360° images. It was the perfect solution for capturing our office environment without backlighting problems.

360° Photo: Using Both Lenses for Full 360° Still Image

360-photo
Images from both the front and rear lenses are stitched together to create 360 degree views in a static, still image with a fun, otherworldly feel. Search #tinyplanet on Instagram for many fun examples.

360° Video: Using Both Cameras for a Full 360° Experience

Click and drag your cursor to experience the agency’s La Jolla office from all directions! 

360° Time Lapse: An IABC Los Angeles Chapter Meeting

Click the image and drag your cursor to see who’s at the table! 

360° Time Lapse: Walking through Waikiki

These 360° images become interactive when uploaded directly to Facebook. Your followers just need to tip, tilt and turn their mobile handset to view the image from all angles. Here’s an example—if you’re reading this on your mobile device, click on the link and give it a try.

Don’t Be All Thumbs

Your thumbs and fingers might wind up in your 360° shots because the 360° view is so wide.

To keep your thumbs out of the shot, secure the camera on a slender extendable mount of some kind. I found that a light stand worked perfectly. I also tried a stabilizer I had been using for taking standard video with my smart phone, but its mount was too chunky and showed up in the shot. Most light stands have a simple screw at the top upon which the Samsung Gear 360 model fits securely. Light stands are generally very lightweight, collapsible and inexpensive.

Ultimately, I also purchased a short, lightweight tripod that I can also hold in my hand to keep my fingers out of the image and which is easier to travel with.

Once the camera is mounted on a tripod, you can control it from a distance using your Bluetooth-connected phone. That means that you can place the camera to capture a scene and then go pose for the shot. With the camera’s timer mode, you can also set up a shot and give yourself a few seconds to put your camera down and get yourself or your group into position.

If you’re holding the device in your hand, you’ll be happier with the results if you look up at the camera and say “cheese” or, as explained above, place it on a tripod and operate the camera at a distance with your smart phone for a less posed shot.

Be Mindful With Motion

With the 360° video setting, the immersive nature of a moving image can be a bit disorienting. A gimbal device can be used to create a more professional, totally stabilized image or video.

But even without additional stabilizing accessories you can capture motion elegantly.

First, place the camera on a tripod so that it’s perfectly still. Allow the camera to capture the motion around it. That will give the viewer the sense that they’re immersed in the action without the distraction of jarring camera movements.

Second, make use of the time lapse setting. Hold the camera at a distance on a narrow stabilizer and slowly move through the scene that you’re seeking to capture. Because the final image will be considerably sped up, any jerky motions won’t be visible. This effect creates a fun, high-energy image and can really boil a scene or experience down into mere seconds for at-a-glance communication.

Third, combine a tripod with the time lapse feature. Using the tripod, take a time lapse image of the surroundings. If the experience you’re trying to capture is something like an event getting set up, a streetfront or bustling beach scene, this combination will immerse your viewer in that place and convey the scene in mere seconds.

Depending on the 360° product you’re using, it may have a “Stabilize” setting, which, in the case of the Gear 360, automatically corrects shaky or tilted photos and videos. If you’re uploading to YouTube to share your footage, you can also toggle YouTube’s Auto-Fix or Stabilize Video options in its Effects menu before publishing.

Ideas for PR Pros to Use a 360° Camera for Visual Storytelling

The uses are manifold! Essentially, anytime you want your audience to feel or experience something remotely or virtually, 360° video or stills are a great tool in your communicator’s toolkit.

Hospitality PR pros can bring prospective guests and media right into the property’s lobby or immerse them in a nearby visitor attraction. A technology public relations team can bring the trade-show floor or their CES booth to life. And imagine doing that as a behind-the-scenes Facebook or Instagram live video to tease your booth or product launch? If you’re in entertainment PR, this technology is perfect to immerse your audience in a red carpet or festival experience.

I’m most excited by this technology for nonprofit visual storytelling. Putting your donors in the environment of the people, places or pets that their philanthropy helps can be incredibly powerful. A hospital foundation can show the new wing or equipment that its donors helped fund, a food bank can show its empty shelves ahead of a food drive and a nature preserve can share a time lapse with hikers, wildlife and passing clouds to encourage public support.

All of the above are perfectly suited for social media engagement too. And with Facebook and YouTube supporting 360° video, you can use these social networks to share your immersive visual stories.

What to Budget

If you’re ready to try a 360° camera for visual storytelling, you can buy one for about the same price as a 164 GB storage card, and you’ll likely need both, so budget at least $200. While you might be able to save $20 by buying a smaller memory card, why have regrets when you run out of storage capacity in the middle of a video shoot?

A light stand as a tripod may run you a minimum of $20 and a handheld stabilizer about $15 to $500 depending on how fancy you want to get.

I also upgraded the storage card on my phone to make sure I would not run out of storage space as I began accumulating more large video files. And the Landscape HDR mode images are quite large too – but beyond worth it. (I never want to take a standard landscape photo again!)

Conclusion

If you do go for it (or are already producing 360° video and immersive stories for your client or company), I’d love to hear about your experiences or see your work. Share with me on Instagram at @juliewrightPR or see our agency’s feed at @wrightoncomm. I can’t wait to see how others are using immersive storytelling to earn attention and drive interest in their messages.

And if you’re not yet but would like to bring a 360° influencer to your site or work with an agency that is embracing new methods to bring your story to your audience, please contact us at info@wrightoncomm.com.

The results will be well worth it!

Three Surprising B2B PR Tips to Secure Media Attention

By Chancelor Shay —Director, B2B & Infrastructure Development
Twitter: @chanceshay

If you’re not on the cutting edge of artificial intelligence-controlled robotics or have the fastest supercomputer in the world, it’s probably hard to get journalists and media outlets charged up to talk about your B2B brand. Brands that struggle with this typically fall into the trap of believing every editor is interested in their niche position in the B2B world and talk (or type) ad nauseam about what it is they do.

Nobody cares.

Even if it’s a trade publication and the writer covers your vertical, they still don’t care.

What they do care about is writing cool stories their readers will dig and doing their job well. Your PR success depends on your ability to help them achieve that goal.

Here are three counterintuitive steps to secure more coverage while wasting less time.

The best stories aren’t about your brand

Most media outlets don’t like to dedicate an entire piece to one vendor. They’re job is to tell stories that will be as interesting as possible to the greatest number of readers. Unless your brand is already a household name, this means that the most impactful story pitch will tell your customer’s story. The outlet’s readers can relate to your customer because they are just like them. A story about how your customer did something awesome (and how you played a role in it) stands a better chance at being picked up than raving about how innovative your product/service is or its features and benefits.

Don’t talk about your product/service

If you’re proud or excited about what your company does, go tell your mother. If a journalist was already interested in your brand, they’d already have reached out to you instead of being on the receiving end of your pitch. Instead, develop a pitch to address what your customers (a.k.a. the outlet’s readers) are dealing with. Speak in terms of their pain points. The odds are that that your company isn’t nearly as cool as the ecosystem in which you operate. So, bring in as many different perspectives and folds to the story as you can so that the reporter or writer can envision an engaging story with a story arc that shares real-world challenges and not just free publicity for your brand.

Be the oil can, not a squeaky wheel

Any PR pro will tell you that if you ask 10 different journalists how they like to be pitched, you’ll get 10 different answers. However, one thing is for sure – PR pros’ jobs are to make the journalist’s job easier. This means helping the journalist write about something they’re interested in covering rather than trying to convince them that they should write about something interesting to your brand. Do you want to be the kid crying on the playground for attention or do you want to be the kid who brought the Pokémon cards to recess? When you approach pitching the media from a service mindset and ask yourself, “how can what I or my client know help them reach their goals” (see tip #1), you’ll become a resource to reporters. You’ll have to start by reaching out to the writer and in two sentences summarizing their recent coverage and writing style (to validate you know who they are and what they do) and then offer up a C-Suite executive in your company who has a reputation and can help the writer make sense of topics they’re interested in. After they use your spokesperson for the first time, then you can start pitching them your own story ideas.

If you think you’re ready for the big leagues, check out our post on How to Earn Media Coverage in Major News Outlets.

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(W)right On Communications won a Silver Bulldog Award for Best B2B Product Launch for our work on this campaign. Read the full case study written by the Bulldog Reporter for in-depth tips.

PR Best Practices Can Restore Public Trust in the Post-Truth Era

By Julie Wright —President
Twitter: @juliewright


It is not business as usual in the media industry.

Some say we’re in a post-truth era. One thing is for sure: the role and honesty of spokespeople, the press and state-sponsored fake news has us all talking. And, it turns out, this controversy has had an enormous impact on public trust.

Trust levels in the U.S. and around the world are measured by the Edelman Trust Barometer. This annual report provides an in-depth analysis of trust in the U.S. breaking it down by trust in the media, CEOs, businesses, experts, NGOs and more. This year, the Edelman Trust Barometer showed a crisis in trust in America. The deep plunge recorded year over year was akin to a stock market crash.

It found that  63 percent of the U.S. general population struggles to distinguish between what is real news and what is fake. Trust in U.S.-based companies dropped from 55 to 50 percent continuing a decline that began in 2014. Trust in NGOs fell from 58 to 49 percent.

This is the environment in which public relations professionals, their employers and clients are communicating. Information from most sources is greeted with skepticism or outright disbelief by the public.

So, here we are. The scarcest commodity in the U.S. today is trust.

Last week, I interviewed Lynn Walsh, project manager of the Trusting News project to find out how the media is working to restore trust with its readers, viewers and listeners. This week, I’m asking how PR pros can work to restore trust with the public?

The answer is to stick to PR best practices and good media relations fundamentals and to recommit ourselves to the crucial role that public relations best practices play in building and restoring trust.

Let’s Refresh on Media Relations’ Primary Goals

Media relations strategies typically start with two high-level goals in mind.

The first is to raise awareness of a brand’s story and messages with its target audiences through well-placed articles, features and other media mentions.

Since earned media cannot be bought, unlike paid media (advertising), it is more credible—with the public and with Google too. Have you noticed that news articles in major media outlets have a much higher search engine ranking? That’s because the websites that they’re published on have a much higher search engine authority, so Google ranks them higher. (This can cut both ways: it’s awesome when the news in such links is great, and terrible when it’s bad.)

The second goal is to influence perceptions and preserve or build an organization’s reputation.

This starts with ensuring media coverage is accurate and fair. It continues with proactive strategies to communicate a brand’s excellent financial performance, corporate social responsibility program, product innovation or corporate culture.

As brand storytellers, the PR team is approaching these communications as an ongoing process or narrative and not as a one-off event or announcement.

When both of these goals are achieved, the news stories topping your brand’s Google search results are the stories you’re most proud of and not the cringe-worthy ones. Plus, you maintain your organization’s trust with its stakeholders (customers, employees, constituents, vendors, partners, patients, donors—whoever you need to keep onside in order to operate effectively).

In short, PR’s first goal is to get you into the media spotlight and its second goal is to ensure, once you’re there, that you’re lit to show your best side so that your audience applauds, or at least understands, your behaviors and decisions versus throwing tomatoes at you.

Along the way, we apply media relations best practices: knowing what’s newsworthy, building good media relationships and being authentic, timely, accurate and transparent.

Truth and Accuracy are PR Best Practices

We are also ethical. Most PR professionals are members of the Public Relations Society of America. As such, we are expected to uphold the society’s professional code of ethics (PDF). This means that we are advocates for our clients and respect their confidential or privileged information, while also being honest, accurate and truthful in our representations to the public. We take responsibility for the authenticity of the information we represent in our communications and outreach.

It’s not an easy task. Public relations is consistently ranked as one of the top 10 most stressful jobs in America, and it’s not a thankful task to be the media spokesperson when the chips are down or the heat is on. (That’s one big reason why so many of us appreciate our thankful clients and employers so much.)

But, here’s the point of this refresher. Ethical PR that follows PR best practices like transparency, accuracy, authenticity and timely communication is what builds trust.

And trust matters. It has an ROI. There’s even a name for it: brand equity. When brands and people are trusted, they’re valued. When things go wrong, trusted people and brands get the benefit of the doubt. When you look these benefits, an investment in PR best practices makes incredibly good sense.

If this resonates with you as either a PR pro or someone who can influence a company’s PR strategy, I encourage you to fight for PR best practices, to remember that PR is not happy talk and spin. It is also tough talk and the hard work and soul searching that sometimes come when tough conversations are required with your stakeholders.

Remind your colleagues in the C-suite and at the board room table that when they hold strategic communications to the same high standard as you do, the public will hold your brand in higher regard. And when your brand consistently communicates with transparency and truthfulness, you’ll earn the public’s trust. Trusted brands have higher valuations because trust is a precious commodity. So, stand up for standards and stand up for trust.

 

5 Questions for Journalism Expert Lynn Walsh on Trusting News

Lynn Walsh Trusting News project

By Julie Wright —President
Twitter: @juliewright


The public’s lack of trust in news sources is not just a problem for journalists. It is clearly one for public relations professionals and the organizations that they represent too.

To understand what got us to this low point in trusting news and what might be done to restore trust in the media and information, I spoke to Lynn Walsh of the Trusting News project.Lynn Walsh Trusting News

Lynn spent the first 10 years of her career as an investigative journalist and most recently oversaw the NBC San Diego investigative team. She served as president of the Society of Professional Journalists last year regularly speaking on and advocating for journalism ethics and press freedoms. She teaches journalism at Point Loma Nazarene University and recently, took on her new role at Trusting News. It perfectly blends her journalism and digital media experience with her passion for a healthy, thriving free press.

As project manager for the Trusting News project, Lynn works with newsrooms and journalism schools in the U.S. and Canada to conduct news engagement experiments and research leading to new best practices intended to restore trust between news media and news consumers.

Alongside project director and Poynter Institute adjunct faculty member, Joy Mayer, Lynn studies how people decide news is credible and shares that knowledge and actionable strategies that newsrooms can implement. Currently, close to 30 newsrooms are trialing these new best practices with plans to roll out the strategies that show the most promise for change.

Trusting News is funded by the Reynolds Journalism Institute, the Knight Foundation and Democracy Fund.

  1. What is the mission of the Trusting News project?

Our goal is to rebuild trust between journalists and the public and we do that by working with newsrooms helping them be transparent in their reporting and encouraging engagement with their readers, listeners and viewers.

  1. What is driving the lack of trust in media?

The responsibility is on both sides. Both news media and news consumers have been struggling to adapt to the digital news environment and how it changed the relationship between journalists and the public.

Lynn Walsh Trusting News projectIn the past, consumers of news didn’t really have that many options. They got the newspaper from their doorstep or turned on their TV, and the news was delivered to them. Now, they also discover news digitally when they’re searching online or using social media.

News has also become less of a one-way delivery system. People can now respond to your content.

News organizations didn’t do a good enough job of adapting to the changes created by this new digital format. They continued to deliver the news in the format they always have.

For instance, we didn’t do a good job of labeling the content when we moved it over to the digital space—is this a news article, a blog post or an opinion piece? People have no way of telling what kind of content they are discovering digitally and how to filter it.

The public also does not understand what journalist do, how they do their jobs and how the news media works. That means that people aren’t prepared and equipped to decide whether what they’re seeing is news or someone’s opinion.

  1. What can the media do about that?

I think from my personal experience dealing with members of the public, it’s about having conversations, explaining why we chose to cover a story or interview an individual on a subject matter, why we blurred a photo or didn’t use someone’s name. Explain the decisions we make every day.

Labeling is key here. If you have a story that’s an opinion story, don’t call it an op-ed since people don’t know what that is. Label it as opinion. Be clear about labels and make sure that label follows that story online and when shared on social media. Be clear about labels for the people we as broadcast journalists put on air too—not just calling everyone an expert. For instance, what is an analyst? Are they a reporter or giving an opinion?

We need to be honest with our viewers when we are putting someone on who is just sharing an opinion.

  1. How do you see this trust issue impacting professional communicators like PR people and spokespeople?

Unfortunately, where we really are now and have been for a year or more is that people just don’t trust what they’re hearing and reading. It doesn’t just apply when it’s coming from a news organization. It can be coming from a press release on someone’s website or a blog post. People are questioning everything and searching to find information that can disprove it. So, the trust issue doesn’t just apply to news organizations. It applies to all information.

People don’t trust facts anymore. People think that facts can be debated. It extends beyond news.

  1. How do you see things five years from now? Better or worse?

I really hope that five years from now I’m not having to teach people how to build trust, be transparent and build credibility with their audience. I hope we begin to be open about how we are telling our stories, why we chose this person to talk to and not be hesitant to talk to people who are critical of our reporting. If we didn’t include something in a story, I hope that we’d be comfortable going back and telling that side of the story or incorporating that missing viewpoint.

This is a new kind of storytelling. It’s things we’ve always done but just in a more transparent way.

To get there, we need some of the biggest news organizations to buy in. When you look at 24-hour news organizations, this isn’t happening. We need CNN and Fox News to start labeling stories and their experts and pundits properly. Hopefully, they will do a better job of separating for the public what is news content and what is opinion.

So far, that’s not happening.