Has faith in editorial content in media come down?
Dr Bhaskar Das (BD): Generic audience dipsticks indicate that there is a tangible amount of trust erosion in editorial content in media. This is not a function of media behaviour itself but also the fact that with social media, the individual has now turned broadcaster. Multi-platform content consumption has increased massively, which means that all content can be compared, verified and evaluated by the individual. Hence the trust factor towards any one source is not irrevocable. You are as good as your last story. Trust has become a dynamic factor.
Hari Krishnan (HK): If you look at the growth of TV channels, newspapers, online consumption of news or content across media channels, I personally, haven’t seen anybody subscribe into this point of view that there is a lack of faith in editorial content. There might be differing views regarding a piece of news depending on how it is covered, who the sources are but rarely do people unanimously say that something is not credible.
What has been the influence of advertising and sponsored content on reader/viewer trust?
BD: Advertising communication has been part of media content over the decades and is not a new phenomenon. Some media houses have reportedly camouflaged sponsored content within the editorial environment, but that does not make it the dominant culture. All media practices are constantly evolving and while it will be difficult to measure damage of deviant practices, it is certain that the only thing that will survive is the ethos of a media brand and a culture of pristine journalism. That alone can cement reader/viewer trust to a media house.
HK: Are audiences seeing more of advertising or more of sponsored content in media vehicles? Yes, that might be true! But as a result of that are they disbelieving the editorial content, may not be true. So a statement that faith in editorial content having come down simply because there is more and more advertising in media could be conjecture. People share a lot of content – both offline and online. The fact the consumers actually want to share a piece of news is a proof-point that in the audience’s eyes, editorial content still holds a lot of credibility.
What has been the influence of media companies and content custodians driving personal agendas on trust?
BD: No piece of news can survive the litmus test of absolute neutrality. Every piece of news selected has a context and the implied impact, even if rounded up, will have an element of educated opinion or verifiable conjecture. Given personal polarization of an individual, one can consider a piece of news to either be propaganda or the irrefutable truth. Where you stand at a personal level, can heavily define which media vehicle you trust. Often, then, the agenda of the content custodian is aligned to that of the individual. The operative word in this situation is choice.
HK: All major media houses that put out news are privately owned in India but they are also known to carry highly reputed editors at the forefront who have a fairly unbiased view of what goes on. I’m not sure if any political agendas are overwhelmingly dominant across media houses. One may not know the entire truth of a story but what needs to be understood is that sooner or later the audience gets to know what is biased and what isn’t. In such cases, brands do de-grow as even news, ultimately, is a product.
Are media clearly declaring sponsored content as such?
BD: As a media house ZMCL believes in clearly flagging sponsored content if used on any of its platforms. Not doing so heavily impacts the editorial credibility of the vehicle itself. Since the editorial team does not arbitrate on the content that gets dictated by the sponsor, the intent of communication is split. At the face of it, this is thin ice for anyone looking to build trust either with advertisers or readers/viewers. Short-term gain supersedes long-term relationship building.
HK: Across what I have seen, media does carry a badge stating sponsored as what it is in a very unbiased and objective way. I haven’t seen any cases where there is any deception or intentionally misleading the viewers or readers. Most of the media houses are following norms and observing self regulation. Also, we must not forget that the consumer is more often than not able to distinguish between sponsored content and pure editorial content.
Does not doing so increase credibility of such content? Can viewers/readers tell the difference when sponsored content is not declared?
BD: The splitting of intention in editorial voice is an easy thing to detect. The process of news selection has its sanctity and something that is forced into the editorial environment cannot be camouflaged indefinitely. It would be very myopic to underestimate the intelligence of the common man. The consumer discerns. An advertisement or a PR pitch can make any claim it wants, but the efficacy of any claim is immediately verifiable. The potential damage caused by compromised content to a media vehicle’s credibility is huge.
HK: It is a case to case thing. After a good number of decades of consuming news in India, the readers are not naïve and can easily figure out the gist of what is being put in front of them.
(This article appeared in Campaign India's issue dated 28 November.)