How to repair a reputation left in shreds?


The public’s trust in the British media has been shattered, according to research seen exclusively by Marketing Week. Can Fleet Street drag itself out of the gutter? asks Morag Cuddeford Jones

Nearly three-quarters of the British public say their trust in the UK media has been damaged by allegations of illegal phone hacking that led to the closure of the News of the World after 168 years.

Added to this, ongoing revelations about hacking seem to happen almost daily and research seen exclusively by Marketing Week suggests that the general public have lost faith not just in printed papers, but in other types of media too.

In the survey, 74% of respondents say allegations of phone hacking has damaged their view of the trustworthiness of all types of paid-for media. The study, by YouGov for publisher River Group, asked 2,146 people across the UK how badly their confidence in the media has been affected.

However, it would seem that with age comes cynicism. Those most affected by the scandal are people aged 45 or more. Hacking has permanently damaged the view of the media for 46% of people aged 45-54 and 47% of those over 55, compared with 29% of 18-24 year olds and 35% of 25-34 year olds.

Geography also affects the public’s trust in the media, with 50% people in Northern Ireland, 45% of those in the north of England, 44% in the Midlands, 52% in Wales and 48% in Scotland being negatively affected by the hacking scandal.

But in London, only 31% of people say the scandal has permanently damaged their view of the media, although a further 38% say their faith has been dented to some degree.

When it comes to different types of media, 33% of people think newspapers are untrustworthy with only 28% finding them very or fairly trustworthy. “It is surprising that about half as many people found newspapers trustworthy compared with radio,” says Adrian Odds, business development director for River Group. But as newspapers were at the epicentre of the hacking scandal, it is perhaps surprising that nearly a third of respondents still trust them at all.

More than half of respondents (52%) believe that radio is very or fairly trustworthy, five percentage points more than those who feel the same about TV. Odds suggests this may be down to the ’transparency’ of the TV set digital trickery aside, you can largely see what is going on in front of you.

Final farewell: The phone hacking scandal led to the News of The World’s closure

However, seeing isn’t always believing. Online video a channel consumers are being encouraged to view as a viable alternative to TV performs poorly in the survey. Barely 1% of those questioned feel that YouTube or videos on websites are trustworthy media sources.

“We were expecting online viewing to score higher than this,” Odds admits. “YouTube is still not seen as a credible channel. Perhaps its content is too jokey and sometimes there is a lot of nonsense to wade through.”

Another poor performer in the survey is celebrity tweets to endorse a product, which are also only deemed trustworthy by 1% of respondents. Odds suggests that this is because of the frivolity of celebrity tweets combined with growing scepticism about the PR machine.

This underlines the consumer’s need for authenticity, according to Odds, who points out that 31% of those questioned say they trust content edited by a professional with expertise in a particular subject, such as the editor of a newspaper, while another 31% place their trust in consumer-created content and reviews.

“A media expert who is engaged in their topic is as trustworthy as the member of the public who contributes. For good or ill it is the power of the advocate,” says Odds.

This authenticity, Odds believes, is what has been responsible for the relatively high score for branded magazines, with 25% of those questioned saying they found free magazines from brands trustworthy compared with 22% for consumer publications.

Essentially a form of advertising for their client brand, this is surprising when the traditionally held view is that customers are always suspicious of being marketed to. Indeed, the research reveals that articles seen in email and direct marketing are the least trusted of the survey with 43% agreeing that email is very or fairly untrustworthy and 54% of respondents feeling the same way about direct marketing.

“What works in branded content’s favour is that there is a basic truth about where the content has come from,” Odds suggests, adding that digital media has had a big impact on the perception of branded media. However, this is not a universally held opinion, with 21% of people saying websites are untrustworthy and 23% distrusting digital magazines from brands.

So while newspapers in particular struggle to rebuild consumer confidence, it appears that other media brands will also need to act promptly to win back the 74% of the British public who say they have lost faith in Fleet Street.

The Frontline: We ask marketers on the frontline whether our “trends” research matches their experience on the ground


Alison Perry
Executive editor
More! magazine

In general, readers distrust celebrity stories and tend to side with the famous person when they say: “Don’t believe what you see in the press.”

To reinforce our integrity, it’s important that our team reflects our readership. Our writers are really living the life of our readers. They lean on each other with relationship issues, they’re all obsessed with fashion and celebrity.

But it is by being early adopters of social media that adds that extra level of trust and communication between us and our readers. We have more than 100,000 fans on Facebook. We have a dialogue with them and they will pick us up on the slightest thing. If there’s a spelling mistake, our readers have no problem letting us know.

I’m surprised that the research shows such a low opinion of digital media and celebrities using Twitter in particular. Perhaps the age group with the most trust issues isn’t one used to using social media. But equally, Twitter needs to help itself as the number of fake accounts believed by the consumer is very high. The X Factor feed, for example, constantly has to remind its followers that it is the real deal and that imposters are out there. Twitter has gone a little way to rectifying this with the verified account format but it’s still difficult to tell.


John McLellan
The Scotsman

Some TV dramas play up the idea of the journalist as the lowest of the low so when reality matches the story it’s easy for the public to believe the worst of the printed press. The phone hacking scandal just reinforced the stereotypical view.

Phone hacking is illegal but any suggestion that all the press are at it is tarring us with the same brush. To improve the reputation of newspapers, there needs to be a culture of openness and a shake up of the way the media largely self-regulates.

Despite much of the focus being on the News of the World, I don’t think this is a “broadsheet brand good, tabloid brand bad” issue.

The Scotsman, which turned from broadsheet to compact format in 2004, deals in different markets with different stories. It doesn’t mean to say that the popular press is any less important or conducts its business in a less professional way.

Newspapers will enhance their reputations through a willingness to be fair and balanced and by allowing themselves to be criticised

Part of the problem has been that any admission of weakness, for example that we don’t always know the whole story and allow readers to shape the debate, undermines the value of our paper. We cannot be seen to be the guardians of absolute truth. The mistake-free paper has never been published.


Steve Parkinson
Managing director
Kiss and Heart Bauer Radio London

Radio is the original social media. In the old days you would send requests and participate in phone-ins and competitions. Now you can communicate with it in many more ways.

It’s also very personal. You can wake up to it, take it to the shower, drive with it and work out in the gym to it. And it’s free. Most generations have fond memories of radio. There is something about radio being live with no huge production staff, no time to edit or change words.

Radio is quick to react. Capital and Magic in London flipped to almost constant rolling news during the 7/7 terrorist attacks. Music was changed, presenters shifted their tone. Radio doesn’t have cameras to think about, the presenter is the ears and the eyes for the listener, so there is greater trust.

A few years ago, we researched whether Kiss should have some form of social network other than Facebook or whether there should be more charts chosen by listeners. The answer was a resounding no. Listeners said they turned to Kiss for music recommendation and they saw it as an editor and reflector of consumers’ lifestyles. This is a position of high esteem and one we never take for granted.


Ian Betteridge
Digital content strategist
Redwood Publishing

I don’t think it’s a big surprise some people are looking to brands for content they can trust. Brands such as Boots and Marks & Spencer, which we work with, have spent decades building up trust with their customers through great products and services. If brands want to live up to that trust in content, they have to show the same level of passion and care that they show with their products.

The key thing is to look to create content where the needs of the brand and the needs of customers overlap. That’s the “content sweet spot” and it’s where brands can create content that’s both good for their business and meet the needs of customers. That’s where you can really match the trust that people are putting in you.



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