What does it mean to trust the media?
Authors: Tereza Pavlíčková, Lars Nyre and Jelena Jurisic
What does it mean when people say that they trust or do not trust the media? Additionally, we ask what is so important about this question? In this chapter we suggest that the audiences’ trust in media must be conceptually re-considered. If we want to observe how the trust of European audiences is changing, we first need a systematic understanding of how trust is constructed in various instances of the communication chain. These processes are a key condition for functioning democracy. Trust plays a vital role in almost every human interaction, not only in media-recipient relationships: it is an important basis for social order and a foundation for social cohesion; and it is a prerequisite for a functioning society (Misztal 1996; Kohring and Matthes 2007; Jackob 2010).
The media landscape has been fundamentally transformed over the past twenty years or so, at least in part because mediated content can now be distributed and accessed through numerous media technologies and gadgets cross-media consumption is a day-to-day reality for many Europeans, and as such, is also addressed in this book. Traditional mass media are now supplemented, if not rivalled, by information disseminated through social media and Web 2.0. The established European media scene, comprising both private as well as public service media is now facing competition from ‘amateur’ media sources – citizen media and journalism (e.g., Rodriguez 2001; Deuze 2006; Bakardjieva 2011). The immense variety of sources available requires media audiences to employ their own mechanisms and systems of evaluation when establishing trust. As Dreyfus (2001,12, italics in original) writes, when commenting on the structure and organisation of information on the internet: “quantity of connections is valued above any judgment as to the quality of those connections.” With new media technologies broadening the possibilities of media use and consumption for audiences, there is, inevitably, less certainty about quality than was previously the case. It follows, therefore, that there is also a greater need for the citizen to assign trust to mediated content based on his or her own assessment of its worth.
The transformation of trust relationships in Europe goes in the direction of greater reliance on personal trust-relationships, while what might be called confidence-relationships are becoming less prominent. This change is in large part due to the increase in layperson participation in digital media of all sorts (Carpentier 2011).
European society is indeed transforming, but this transformation should not be seen simplistically – as a cause and an effect- with a clear beginning and end. Rather, it should be recognised as a constant process of change in the scale, pace and pattern of communication, with attendant economic, political, and cultural implications, accompanied by public debates where values and collective understanding are shared and negotiated. Taking this complexity at face value, it is perhaps no surprise that media researchers are striving to interpret and make sense of it. This struggle is reflected in a recent special issue of European Journal of Communication, within which half a dozen articles discuss trust in the media. There seem to be two prominent schools of thought in our field; the critical cultural approach concerned about the loss of healthy, trustful relationships in the globalised capitalist media landscape (Aupers 2012; Coleman 2012; van Zoonen 2012; Seldon 2009; O’Neill 2002), and the sociological empirical approach which tries to understand the complex changes in communicative relationships (Quandt 2012; Giddens 1990; Luhmann 1979; Sztompka 1998). In this chapter, we relate mostly to the latter tradition.
Through theoretical debate, we attempt to establish a model that will help us to see the question of trust as being multidimensional. Rather than highlighting differences between traditional and new media consumption (e.g., Johnson and Kaye 1998, 2004), we integrate various media outlets, uses and aspects of mediated communication. Audiences have to invest confidence or trust in a given journalistic outlet for it to work at all, and media institutions have to earn and retain that trust continually. Consequently, they have sought to institutionalise such confidence-worthiness in various opportune ways. To discuss these audience-media relationships, we argue that a relationship scale with six levels should be established: a relatively unconscious confidence in technology, institution and genre, and a more conscious investment of trust (or not) in content, professional journalists and amateur producers. We borrow theoretical concepts from philosophy and sociology, and show systematically how trust in media is transforming in contemporary European culture. We do not refer to entertainment or fictional content, but rather exclusively to professional or amateur journalism that aims to inform by producing and disseminating information, and that wishes to be considered a trustworthy source of knowledge about the world and society. We argue from the perspective of the single human involved in communication with the wider world. However, this individual should be understood as belonging to and acting within his or her social, cultural and historical context.
2. The difference between confidence and trust
We suggest that trust is one of the key dynamics in media audiences’ relationships with media and therefore of media consumption itself. The proposed distinction between trust and confidence (1) builds and expands upon existing theoretical literature about trust (e.g., Beck 1992; Giddens 1990, 1994} Luhmann 1979; Seligman 1997; Sztompka 1998). The widely accepted definition of trust can be summed up as an acceptance of vulnerability to the action of others with expectations of a particular outcome (Mayer et al. 1995; Rousseau et al. 1998). Luhmann (1979, 1988) sees the concept of trust as willingness to risk, but adds that trust is also perceptive. Therefore, the one who trusts as well as the one who is trusted both accept vulnerability to a certain degree, rendering the dependence, at least in part, mutual.
We understand confidence as an established and predictable relationship that is based on previous experiences. Giddens (1990) talks about confidence in abstract systems and Seligman (1997) refers to a confidence in institutions. For Giddens confidence is placed in symbolic tokens, such as money, and expert systems, such as technical and professional knowledge. As distinct from trust, confidence should therefore be understood as being a more ‘taken-for-granted,’ but also impersonal and institutionalised relationship. Luhmann (1979) talks about systems of trust within which media communication and expert systems are established as guarantee mechanisms. For him, confidence does not involve the consideration of alternatives. This position leads to a certain tautology, because there is an increasing need to trust in confidence, that is, to trust that others continue to be confident. It “becomes a type of system trust in the ability of the system to maintain conditions or performances which are, within certain limits, identical” (Luhmann 1979, 68).
We understand trust as a decision to be willing to take risks (Luhmann 1979, 1988; Beck 1992), a process within which the decision to trust or not is made consciously, according to some evaluation scale. To trust someone is an intentional act of a higher order than that of being confident in something. In this conceptualisation, trust is seen as a more momentous and rational decision that might be of affective character as well (Gambetta 1988).
To distinguish further between the two concepts – confidence and trust – the linguistic aspect can be of assistance. Confidence is primarily a noun; it is a state, an underlying state of a relationship between media and audiences. Trust is more likely to be used in its verbal form ‘to trust,’ and it signifies an action, the process of making a decision and taking a risk. We realise that many languages other than English do not have two different words for the dimensions of trust we have elaborated here, but this does not mean that the distinction is useless beyond the English language. The same social relationships are likely to apply with a large number of other words, descriptive, evaluative and emotional, helping to formulate the relationships between people.
Puustinen and Seppänen (2011) are concerned with audiences’ trust in amateur news photographs, They distinguish between silent trust and measured trust, which can be understood as Luhmannian confidence and trust. However, they add two more categories: contextual trust, which is strongly linked to media literacy, where media users consider and evaluate various elements of the text (in this case amateur news photographs); and doubt, an expression of hesitation in granting trust. We agree that the main distinction is not between sources of media (what / whom) to which trust is directed, but rather how trust is established. We still recommend the simple distinction between confidence and trust as being a good analytical tool. This can be used to discuss how the trust relationships between various aspects of the media ensemble are established. We further suggest that the contextual evaluation and comparison of trust is present in both trust and confidence, even though it might not be a conscious process. The approach is an analytical construct in any case, and we want to make it as straightforward as possible.
Here, we conceptualise both trust and confidence using a hermeneutical framework, within which both concepts are inseparable from expectations (Möllering 2001). Previous experience diminishes the possibility of disappointment, and establishes familiarity. While not all things that are familiar necessarily have to be trusted, “trust has to be achieved within a familiar world” (Luhmann 1988, 95). Trustworthiness is therefore a communicative value; what is seen and understood as trustworthy is contextual and closely related to the expectation of certain outcomes. The more an issue relates to personal experience, the less confidence is prevalent in the relationship between users and media (Kohring and Matthes 2007, 248).
3. Trust and confidence in relation to media
Media comprise the main source of information about politics and the public realm, assisting with the building of citizen’s identities. People’s trust in media is therefore a fundamental premise of political representation and a functioning democracy. In current society, the bulk of the information perceived, interpreted and discussed is at some point circulated through technological media of various types. European media audiences are also undergoing a process of transformation, taking part in the global introduction of digital and mobile media. The information at hand in their everyday life is distributed through a broader range of media channels, representing a variety of sources. Seemingly, the most striking distinction can be made between institutionalised professional journalism and personal amateur citizen media. However, there are many issues at play as both mass media as well as social media are, in their different ways, impersonal and oblique sources of information. While institutionalised journalism is supposed to provide objective truth, the journalism of social media is rather seen as being personalised and peer to peer. The latter is supposedly not an asymmetric power relationship, but rather as containing more ‘authentic’ discursive values that are shared and re-negotiated in public debate (Zelizer 1992; Cammaerts and Carpentier 2009; Meyers 2012).
Journalism is traditionally conceptualised as the fourth power in a democratic society, in addition to the executive, legislative and judicial authorities. Its mission is to monitor and control the first three on behalf of the public. The democratic role of media in society is well discussed within media and communication studies (e.g., Habermas 1989; McNair 1998; Curran 2002; Negrine 2008). The media fulfil this democratic role by collecting, checking and publishing information. That is why we consider the question of trust in journalism to be so important. The confidence in journalism as a type of mediated communication is presumed through people reading journalistic texts and approaching media to use them to learn about the world, politics and society. There would be no reason for these media to exist without this condition. Moreover, trust in the media, as Jackob (2010, 590) argues, is “a decisive variable as it facilitates media use, moderates the relationship between media users and content and thus enables direct media effects.” Despite large numbers of classifications, the media’s main public functions can still be presented as John Reith, first Director-General of the BBC, set out in 1924: to inform, educate and entertain. The most important function is to give information to people so that they can realise their social role in relation to other people and facilitate the political functioning of their society. Newer digital developments weaken the ‘trustee model’ of journalism and media content in general: “In the Trustee Model, journalists should provide news according to a professional conception of what citizens should know” (Schudson 1998,136). Journalists no longer hold citizenship in trust for the rest of us, and their influence has weakened along with increasing layperson participation in the public realm.
In the following paragraphs, we distinguish between six levels of increasing risk and the corresponding need for trust. We show that confidence and trust are differently understood in relation to each of the levels discussed. We suggest that the issue of audiences’ trust in media needs to be considered using the full meaning of the word ‘media,’ understanding it as a complex cluster of purposes, roles and values associated with the many different technological interfaces. The full complexity of trust can be explained only when media are also understood in their full complexity. We distinguish media as technologies, institutions, genres, content, professional journalists and amateur producers (where the content is produced by audiences themselves). The prevailing relationship within the first three conceptualisations of media-audience relationships is confidence, whilst within the latter threecases it is trust.
The six audience-media relationships should not be understood as rigid and static distinctions that can be mechanically applied to any mediated communication relationship, but rather as dimensions within which trust should be considered and understood. Therefore, building on the theoretical conceptualisation presented earlier, we argue that confidence is an unconscious relationship within which the prevailing sentiment is to be certain, and not feel any need to question the other party. When confidence is in content, the information is considered trustworthy a priori. The interdependence might therefore lead to a creation of a status quo, a taken-for-granted relationship within which certain questions are not asked, and alternative options are hardly imaginable. We argue that these dynamics are strongly present in the relationships that we call confidence in technology, institution and genre.
4. Confidence in technology
Media are hermeneutical technologies that consist of carefully designed systems primarily intended to facilitate the transmission of information from sender to receiver. These systems can be understood using Shannon and Weaver’s (1963) model of communication, including noises and disruptions that arise on the way. Borgmann (1984) says that large-scale, 20th century electronic technologies basically consist of two elements: the concealed machinery and the fore-grounded commodity. He calls the combination of machinery and commodity a ‘device.’ In the use of modern devices, such as media technologies, there is a tendency for users to be ignorant of the machinery. Computers are very complex at the electromechanical level, but such sensitive apparatuses are protected behind several layers of metal and plastic, thus reducing the risk of damage. The Graphical User Interface makes it easy to select and run files without thinking about how such access comes about, and this is the basis of its ‘commodity.’
The opportunity to understand how a device works is reduced as each new layer of complexity is added. Using television as a case in point, Borgmann argues that devices are characterised by an unfamiliarity with the means and a reliance on their ends. What is fore-grounded in devices is perceptual ease, or in the critical language of Borgmann: comfort and light-weight attention. Such ease “is just the mark of how wide the gap has become between the function accessible to everyone and the machinery known by nearly no one” (Borgmann 1984, 47). The work of the machinery is concealed by the rich experience of the commodity. “Technology systematically withdraws devices or their machinery from our competence and care by making technological objects maintenance free, discardable, or forbiddingly intricate”(Borgmann 1984, 161).
Technologies here also represent the infrastructure providers, a confidence that a programme is broadcast whether the particular user watches it or not, or that a newspaper has been published. In the new media environment the infrastructure providers, e.g., Google or Facebook, do not produce news or other types of content, but they provide platforms and channels for the news to be circulated or produced by the users themselves. Here confidence relates to how accurate, objective or authentic the algorithm is that brings a particular piece of information to the user’s preferred user interface (Pariser2011).
All media use builds on previous experience, in that we expect the technology to be the same as before, and still working. The technology belongs to the familiar, it co-creates what is familiar about media and therefore we do not talk about trust, but confidence in technology. In the media-audience encounter, the technology is often not acknowledged, but we can see that the media users have a confidence in the medium. Otherwise they would not consider it usable in the first place. Talking about confidence in technology instead of trust does not mean that confidence cannot be broken. Here we refer to confidence as being a type of trust which is not established on the basis of particular personal experiences, but rather one which brings with it various associated expectations, assumptions and beliefs (Wilson et al. 2003; Wilson and Thang 2007).
5. Confidence in institutions
Here, we refer to the medium as an institution, with all its traditional, well- tested processes (McQuail 2010). A medium such as the BBC is a good example. When audiences encounter such a well-established public broadcaster, they have certain expectations about how it works, how the various inner mechanisms of editing, reporting, quoting, etc., are employed‚- in short, how the institution produces media content. The audience might not know how it ‘really’ works, but when consuming a journalistic text they assume that there are certain processes within which the content has been produced. Here audiences can be also seen as citizens. They take up a role that links them as individual subjects to the rest of society, and journalism is crucial for this identity to be established and constituted. Curran (2002) argues that media has three main functions in a democracy: to inform, to provide a forum of debate and to represent the public. These functions are sometimes interwoven. For example, to inform can include not only reporting the news, but also investigating the abuse of power. On the other hand, the function of representing the public can be described as “telling truth to power,” relaying public opinion and mobilising public pressure (Curran 2010, 38; see also Said 1996).
Journalism considered as an institution differs from the category of ‘journalist’ that we discuss below. In the latter case, there is predominantly a trust relationship instead of the confidence relationship as discussed here. The key to our two-part conceptualisation (confidence and trust) is to see the media as a system of norms and social practices that are employed with the aim of disseminating information, and that are routinised passed on within the institution itself (Matheson 2009). The institutionalisation and, to certain degree, the standardisation of those processes is what we primarily refer to within this section.
The confidence that we address here takes the form of a relationship with information. Journalism creates the grounds for information to be received and consumed in society. To remain capable of making informed decisions, individuals need to obtain or find some mark or identifier that indicates that media’s information as being reliable. Such a mark is credibility, the central component of discursive trust (Jackob2010, 593). In the case of the journalism-reader relationship, the reader attributes credibility to the journalistic information (Tsfati and Cappella 2003, 505). The perception that a certain source is trustworthy is the result of an attribution process and serves as a rationale for having confidence in uncertain situations that would otherwise be full of uncertainty (Jackob 2010, 593).
6. Confidence in genres
Genre is a textual form that is already established independently of the individual audience member, in which content is presented. The producers have decided in advance that they will make content for this genre, and the audience has preconceptions of what this genre is and what they will be seeing (e.g., Murray 1997; Mittell 2004; Gray 2010). Genre has a strong confidence-function across media. If the reader expects that a report will end in a certain way, it will in the majority of cases do just that. Genres serve producers as well as audiences, and help them to communicate with each other. Each of them is a set of aesthetic and narrative rules, known to producers as well as consumers, of particular media contents within a given cultural context.
Genres frame a particular content that is made by a producer who is recruited from the media as an institution, for example, a professional journalist, a television producer or one of the users themselves. Genre is a media tool used to package information. It is, once again, accompanied by some formal features that the audience members can read, or are expected to be able to read as a part of their media use. Genre promises a certain type of content, a particular form and a way in which information is presented to the reader. The confidence here comes in the form of expectation. A seminal example of disappointed confidence in media through genre is Orson Welles’ radio drama The War of the Worlds (1938). For a Halloween radio broadcast he adapted a science fiction novel of the same name by H.G Wells about Martians invading the Earth. The radio adaptation used the familiar genre of radio news in the play’s opening auditory narrative. After the radio presenter’s announcement that a radio drama by Orson Welles will follow and a brief violin intermezzo (as part of the play), the broadcast was seemingly interrupted by a special news bulletin (with the voice of Orson Welles himself) informing the listeners about a Martian invasion of the Earth. The one hour radio play was presented as a prolonged newscast with reports from the streets of New York and eyewitness accounts. The use of this familiar genre led some listeners to mistake the broadcast for a real news programme (Cantril et al. 1940), in particular those who missed the initial announcement that a radio drama was about to start. Their confidence in the genre characteristics led them to believe that the US was actually being invaded by Martians.
A genre is understood by audiences as comprising a certain set of rules and social practices that are expected, assumed, known and not questioned provided there is no sign or suspicion of foul play. That is why we see genre as a relevant aspect of the media-audience trust relationship, and why we consider it to be a confidence-relationship.
7. Trust in content
Media content is evaluated against the audience members’ opinions and general values in life. We now reintroduce the concept of ‘trust’ and those media-audience relationships associated with it. Trust in this sense implies that the audience members understand and acknowledge the dominant connotations of the text, but nevertheless negotiates their own position according to local conditions, using situated logic. If there is a lack of trust, the interpretation of the message will take place within an alternative frame- work, often involving opposition to the dominant position (Hall 1980).
We previously defined trust as the conscious placing of faith or belief in the credibility of something, and the decision to trust (or not) must consequently be reconsidered in every single encounter with content, establishing the trustworthiness of the particular content against the whole world view of the audience. In comparison to the previous categories, trust here should be understood as an action or a decision to trust. Here, trust is established in line with Luhmann’s (1988) notion of the familiar. The content conveys the audiences’ assumption of what is possible, or what is right. The readers bring their practical knowledge, understanding of the world, political and moral beliefs into their encounter with the text, and adjust their sense of trust positively or negatively. Even though they have confidence in the technology, institution, genre, and even if they trust the writer of the text, they might not trust the particular piece of information to be truthful if it doesn’t fit their belief system, prior knowledge and understanding of society.
Here we can talk about discursive trust. Journalism throughout its history “has depended for its effectiveness‚- if measured by the extent to which readers accept and endorse its arguments‚Äîon the projection of discursive authority” (McNair 2008, 113). Media have to be trusted as credible sources of truthful and accurate information and as investigators of the government, politicians and businessmen in the name of the public. Even more importantly, media must also be trusted as commentttori tnd analysts of important events, problems and processes in society, giving rational, wellargued reasons for their positions.
We can, to a large extent, be confident that the same semantic content is distributed through different technological platforms, institutions and genres, but we might nevertheless have different relationships of trust in each case. Based on the audience member’s expectations, the appropriateness or relevance of a particular piece of information might be questioned.
8. Trust in professional journalists
Media are represented in everyday encounters with their audiences by journalists with particular names, faces and personalities. Being a member of a socially recognised profession, this role comes with certain expectations as well as duties and working practices and routines for the individuals concerned. Audiences create a trust relationship to a particular name or journalistic personality. The audience is the actor here, they make the decision about whether to trust the journalist or not. Trust is therefore directly linked to suspicion and doubt. It has to be established every single time, in contrast to the routinized confidence in the genre, institution or technology.
In verbal associations between people, the concept of trust is an even more complex phenomenon than in media associations. Rotter (1967, 651) defines it as “expectancy held by an individual or group that the word, promise, verbal or written statement of another individual can be relied upon.”Phillips et al. (2010) argue that the expression of opinion and voice in practical journalism is crucial. “We need news media that, by the circulation of facts but also by providing opportunities for the expression of opinion and voice, help us sustain a successful, indeed peaceful, life together‚- in spite of our conflicting values, interests and understandings” (Phillips et al. 2010, 53). This means that audiences need information published by the media to help them organise their lives and to feel connected to the territory that the media cover.
Here, indeed, the trust in the journalistic person is interwoven with the institutional confidence in the specific media outlet. The journalist is seen as part of the company he or she represents. Journalists speak for the particular media outlet and it is similarly identified through them. Even so, the audiences’ relationship with the journalist in question can be seen as a rather personalised form of trust relationship, within which the reader builds a relationship with the individual name he or she is faced with. The fact that this name speaks in the context of its medium differentiates it from the amateur producer discussed below.
In traditional media outlets, such as newspapers, television and radio, the complex journalistic routine contradicts the idea of a personal authorial initiative (Goffman 1981). The author here needs to be seen as a collective voice, or an animator of the institution’s discourse, and therefore she is almost more anonymous than the amateur producer at the end of our six-part model. However, it is part of the media strategy to ‘personalise’ the image of the author to achieve a closer and more ‘personal’ relationship between the author and the reader.
The traditional media have developed institutionalised processes and practices in place, to help present themselves as trustworthy. They appeal to audiences by creating perceptions of impartiality and objectivity, offering various and contested views and opinions; and building their trustworthiness further by reporting authentic witness accounts. The trust in journalists is given to them by the audience, based on a feeling of how likely or how well the trustworthiness has been delivered. The trust in the journalist is indeed based on previous encounters, but also founded on a much more personal level‚- in that the reader also evaluates how much she is in an agreement with the viewpoint of the journalist.
If a journalist fails in his expected journalistic duties and practices, he loses credibility in the eyes of the public. We can see this, for example, in the case of a journalist who published a fake interview with Ivo Sanader, the Prime Minister at the time in the Croatian daily newspaper, Jutarnji list, on the 9 February 2008 (2) (Radosavljevic 2008). The journalist believed that the person he was communicating with by e-mail was the Prime Minister himself, but he was being deceived by a prankster. In such cases, it is mainly the journalist who loses the trust of the readers. The genre he writes in, the technological platform the content is distributed on, and the institution he writes for tend not to be damaged by such incidents. The journalistic media play on emotions, for example, by placing a strong visual reliance on the face and body of the journalistic person, and the sound of his or her voice. The picture caption of the journalist influences the way in which the reader relates to the information being absorbed, and the reader may well be building a relationship with the individual journalist involved as much as with the institution. In the new media environment, the role of the journalist as a personality and as an individual is being renegotiated.
A borderline case is that of journalists who blog or have a Twitter account. Because of their background, such individuals cannot be considered as straightforward citizen journalists alone. By stepping back from their particular institutional framework, they have acquired a freedom to write outside the professional standards which they were previously constrained by. A case in point is that of the former BBC political correspondent, Laura Kuenssberg, who moved to rival channel ITV, as a business editor. On Twitter the rather active journalist, using the handle name @BBCLauraK, was suddenly no longer employed by the BBC, and there were questions about who should own her account, and implicitly her followers too (Kiss 2011). Should she keep the account, and therefore the followers, and rename it only so it no longer referred to the BBC, or should she leave her BBC account behind altogether to be taken over by her successor? The first option was eventually agreed on, and now the journalist’s Twitter activity can be followed via the handle name @ITVLauraK. We cannot say for certain where the relationship to the institution or the journalist starts and finishes, but nevertheless the relationship with the journalist is so emotional and personal that trust is a better descriptive concept than confidence.
9. Trust in amateur producers
The internet can be thought of as an open agora for discussion. The greatest risk in mediated communication is that of bonding with other persons, across time and space, without fully understanding the motives of those others. Each person must rely on their own prior knowledge and familiarity with different types of communication and the participants are inevitably vulnerable in relation to each other. They may be perceived by a reader to be similar to themselves or part-familiar, or completely unknown, or they may be deceivers. Deception is the real enemy of trust, argues O’Neill (2002, 70): “Deceivers do not treat others as moral equals; they exempt themselves from obligations that they rely on others to live up to.” This sort of behaviour weakens the health of future relationships, and is a constant risk when communicating on the internet, social media and blogs.
The public now recruits authors from within media users themselves, who are seen as amateur producers by comparison to the professionals of traditional media. They are also labelled citizen journalists, producers (Bruns 2008), or prosumers (Toffler 1990), depending on the context. Quandt (2012) analyses the trust relationship between networked media and audiences, seeking to find out whether audiences trust the amateur producers more or less than the professional journalists of traditional media. We have built further on the distinction between confidence and trust, suggesting that the new media do indeed foster a strong trust relationship, where expectations and assumptions are brought into play in every encounter, adding a new intellectual layer to mediated communication in everyday life.
In such relationships, confidence does not really play a role at all. It is all a matter of trust in something that is fragile and can fall apart at any time. The persons involved in communication are not institutionalised, they may mix up genre conventions, and the relationship is almost entirely based on recommendations, credibility and authenticity. It is precarious. The blog may be discontinued at any time. There are intermittent comments on Facebook groups, in newspaper commentary fields, and so on, but the text-reader relationship can end any time, and the ‘citizen journalist’ can stop communicating in this public way at any given moment, without any warning or prior signals.
There can be a strong sense of witnessing (Peters 2001) when relating to the products of citizen participation. The style and genre of user-generated content is often seen as more declarative, personal and honest. Readers might feel closer to reality through the user-generated journalistic accounts. The trust relationship is therefore built on the authors’ ability to demonstrate ‘truth’ through the authentic account of somebody who has been there. The value of actual presence and involvement in the event or information is socially understood as true and real, regardless of the eloquence or precision of the account. Content distributed via social media has a more casual, conversational tone, often presenting itself as a user-generated and authentic. In the case of the professional journalist, on the other hand, audiences expect a balanced, unbiased account that is understood to be true in the context of the quality requirements of institutional media.
The paradox of this distinction is that both sides try to blend with each other as well as distinguishing themselves from each other (Wall 2005; Park 2009). Service providers presenting and distributing content generated by users themselves have various mechanisms that place the user-generated content, as well as the amateur producers themselves, in hierarchies of prestige. In these cases values such as quality, reliability, and expertise are prevalent; values that are also associated with professional media producers (Carpentier 2009). Similarly, traditional news media are employing amateur producers to create content for their social media profiles and blogs, and to communicate with other loyal users on their behalf (Meyers 2012).
In this chapter, we have been dealing with the construction, or textual positioning, of the reader / user. We have established a simple theoretical distinction between confidence and trust, and discussed the scale of the six implied ways for audiences to engage in trustful processes of reception and participation. Confidence and trust are hence seen as being taken up by the user, and signalled through various textual and perceptual features of the medium. In traditional media an institution constructs its position by professional means, while in new, digital, media such a position is constructed by the user him‚- or herself, and not necessarily as part of a strong relationship with traditional authorities.
Blogs, social media content, etc., operate outside the control of traditional mass media. Politicians have only limited control of these media, individuals may champion a cause on a website for only a short time before somebody else becomes its new proponent, and websites appear and disappear from the public eye in a confusing way. Because of all these ‘unconditionalities,’ there is an increasing need for people to trust in media, to take a chance and hope that the communicators on the other side deserve to have such trust placed in them.
Simultaneously, social media are becoming institutionalised as we speak. Bloggers can become institutionalised into the media and, thereafter, more properly Belong to the above category of journalistic professionals. The stable, predictable relationship that we call confidence will probably become more dominant in social media as the service providers become more institutionalised, and subsequently texts available through them become standardised, and in certain cases professionalised. We suggest that this experience is slowly changing the perception and understanding of authenticity as a protocol of use.
In this chapter we have argued that trust is performed by audiences. When considering audiences’ trust, we need to ask more than a question about whether audiences do, or do not, trust media, since the answers might refer to widely different media-audience relationships. We argue that the current notion of trust in media means many different and often contradictory things, and that trust cannot be understood in relation to one particular medium or content only but, rather, within the wider available media ensemble as a whole.
When asking whether or not people trust media, all these layers of what media means, and in what way people relate to them, need to be reflected. The prior knowledge, the expectation and prior assumption of the audience member mark out the territory of what is familiar, and defines the individual’s horizon of trust. At the same time, trustworthiness is performed by the media through rhetorical invitations to engage in socially and culturally recognised values.
1. The distinction between trust and confidence that we expand on is well established for example in Giddens (1990, 1994) and Luhmann (1979). In this instance, it should be noted that the concept of trust is analytically divided into two sub-categories: confidence and what might be called trust2. As one of those categories is still being called trust, some terminological confusion and frustration might result. Nevertheless, along with Seligman (1997), we will not make a typographical distinction between trust and trust2, but rather presume that the particular context of writing will clarify which level of the concept we are dealing with.
2. This text was removed from the newspaper website after the government had issued a disclaimer.
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