IBC 2018

Trust Tops Tech To Rebuild News Audiences

An opening panel at the broadcasters’ gathering in Amsterdam found that rebuilding audience trust is a top priority, and the right combination of social listening and low-tech reporting might help realize it.

AMSTERDAM — The IP transition and the cloud may already be looming as IBC’s major story lines this year, but one of its earliest conversations came down to something far more rudimentary: how broadcasters can regain audience trust.

Deborah Turness, president of NBC News International, laid down broadcast news’ crisis plainly. “If we are honest with ourselves, in many ways we have failed,” she said.

At a panel discussion here Thursday partly aimed at dissecting that failure, Turness cautioned that news organizations haven’t listened to the sounds of social change among their viewers. The result is that many of those viewers are now turning to alternative news “and taking their trust with them.”

NBC’s attempt to reverse that trend in Europe is a top-to-bottom relaunch of its EuroNews brand. Turness said the network is now trying to position itself as a “town square” for Europe in an age of dramatically shifted political fault lines where the major differentiators are no longer socioeconomic, but focused on values and culture instead.

In that environment, it’s crucial to let sources from a wide spectrum of views have their say, she said. To enable that, EuroNews’ new model shifts from an entirely post-produced news platform to a social media-centric 17 hours of live daily content. Programming jumps between a “social studio” staffed with listening journalists and fake news fact checkers and a team of journalists in the field armed solely with iPhone cameras, nary a microwave truck or shoulder mounted camera among them.

“We think it’s a more transparent form of journalism,” Turness said. “A little more raw, a little more rough, but also a little more real.”

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That approach was exemplified by one reporter’s iPhone account of 20 hours on a refugee boat that had just been turned away by Italian authorities and a new talk show, Raw Politics, that invited more provocative voices that other news organizations have been wont to turn away for fear of offending audiences.

Shutting such voices out of on-air debates sends viewers — especially those on the right end of the spectrum — running to more extreme outlets like Breitbart News, Turness said.

“We need to be trusted, but we cannot just be trusted by one-half of the population,” she said.

Deborah Rayner, SVP of international newsgathering for television and digital at CNN, is used to being on the receiving end of mistrust over the past 18 months. But she said that rather than being demoralized, CNN staffers have redoubled their efforts to produce valid, objective reporting.

“We can demonstrate that we’re not fake,” she said. “We just have to keep going … and show those allegations of fake news are fake themselves.”

Rayner said the more experiential reporting that EuroNews is now rolling out might be a way to help earn back that trust. CNN International has made its own forays into such low-tech approaches such as a widely lauded piece on human trafficking in Africa where “the technology was just a secret camera in a handbag.”

She acknowledged that a relentless parade of negative stories can also have an eroding effect on audiences. “When there is so much bad news in the world, audiences can start turning away when there’s nothing they can do about them,” she said.

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That’s where new “social publishers” like the U.K.’s LADbible have gained traction. Peter Heneghan, head of communications there, said that taking a positive or empowering tact with stories has helped the six-year-old organization gain its audience of 62 million social followers.

Exhibit A was its wildly popular “Trash Isles” coverage, which sought to turn attention to the France-sized mass of floating plastic ocean debris by petitioning the U.N. to declare it its own nation. The content LADbible developed around this idea included creating the isle’s own passport, currency and flag, along with aggregating a bevy of socially-conscious celebrity appearances. Ultimately the “Trash Isles” content has reached over 350 million viewers by tackling a serious issue “in a stunt-y way,” Heneghan said.

NBC’s Turness hopes that a less high-concept approach will yield results for the EuroNews reboot. She said breaking the media’s echo chamber walls is one of the most important steps it can take to reestablish its value and “mass” status.

“We’re not listening and truly there in the places where people’s lives have been affected,” she said, calling for a reboot of the word “mainstream” itself from the epithet snarled by the right that into which it has devolved.

“Let’s reclaim the word ‘mainstream,’ and say that mainstream is trusted news,” she said.

Read all of TVNewsCheck’s IBC 2018 news here.


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