In an era marked by rapid technological advancements and a relentless surge of information, public trust in news organizations has reached an all-time low. The pervasive influence of social media, coupled with a barrage of misinformation, has fueled skepticism among audiences, leading to a growing sense of mistrust in traditional news outlets. As this crisis of credibility deepens, the role of public relations professionals and the communications industry becomes increasingly pivotal in restoring faith in the media landscape.
The advent of digital platforms has democratized information dissemination, allowing for a plethora of voices to be heard. However, it has also given rise to the spread of unverified and sensationalized content that blurs the lines between facts and falsehoods. This information overload has left the public grappling with uncertainty and skepticism and rebuilding trust has become imperative. A recent study by the Gallup and Knight Foundation, “American Views 2022: Part 2,” sheds light on the state of public mistrust in news organizations. The study found that over 50 percent of respondents reject the statement that “national news organizations do not intend to mislead.” Only a quarter of respondents supported this statement. In other words, Americans perceive their news organizations as deceptive.
At the forefront of this battle for credibility stand public relations professionals and the communications industry. As communications experts, we bridge the gap between news organizations and their audiences. By fostering transparent and authentic relationships with reporters, public relations practitioners can pave the way for open communication and credible reporting.
Ethical storytelling, as defined by NonProfit PRO, is the “sharing of narratives committed to honesty, accuracy and empathy, with an awareness of their potential impact on people’s lives.” This is one key strategy that public relations practitioners can collectively employ to do our part in ensuring that truthful and honest information remains centered in society. By embracing the principles of ethical storytelling in our work – transparency, accuracy, empathy and responsibility – professionals in public relations and the wider communications sector can play a role in helping journalists and news organizations restore public trust in them and the information they provide through unbiased, comprehensive coverage that contributes to a more informed and engaged society.
Public relations professionals can champion ethical storytelling by urging news organizations to focus on narratives that represent reality, are based on facts and resonate with the public’s values and concerns. We can offer journalists first-person perspectives from a variety of sources to provide holistic stories, call out the significance of transparent and ethical communication within our industry, correct situations where the media provides false information or deliberately confuses the public with messages that are detrimental or lack factual basis.
By promoting ethical storytelling and approaching our work with empathy and open-mindedness, news outlets will connect with their audiences on a deeper level based on trust.
The decline in public trust in news organizations is a complex issue that demands immediate attention. As we navigate this era of information overload, the partnership between news organizations and PR practitioners will be the cornerstone of restoring faith in the fourth estate.