Friday, December 11, 2009

In a Web 2.0 World, It's Important to Define "Credibility"

I've been thinking a lot about credibility lately. Rupert Murdoch makes the point in a recent Wall St. Journal op-ed that there's more competition than ever for people interested in news -- and that's a good thing for consumers.

I don't necessarily agree with more competition is good when it comes to journalism. (That said, I don't think it's good when there's only one source for news, either.)

In his article, "Journalism and Freedom: Government assistance is a greater threat to the press than any new technology,"Murdoch says, "Media companies need to give people the news they want." And that seems to explain Fox News and most of News Corp. properties.

That doesn't always translate into accuracy.

Which leads me back to credibility.

I'm concerned that there are a lot of sites available now that post articles that provide some take on the news, many of them catering to a particular audience's belief systems. And that they don't provide objective perspectives, just self-reinforcing content.

The Boston Globe's Ellen Goodman recently wrote about the topic, "Facts and figures, myths and mantras." Interestingly, the response to her column was a mixed bag of polarized thought, some blaming MSM. (Hint: most times when you hear someone refer to "mainstream media" or especially as MSM, that person will tend to be a conservative and they will have been criticizing the media. You can out the responses to Goodman's column here: May fact-checkers not just endure but prevail.)

So the question becomes: what's credible? How can sites ensure they provide credible news and opinion? And what can organizations do to ensure that their social media programs are credible and engage their constituencies?

CNN launched a new ad campaign that features three CNN anchors with the words "Truth," "Facts" and "News" followed by an ad that says "First."

The problem is that truth, facts and news can be subjective. Facts can be emphasized or de-emphasized to make a particular point.

For example, I'm reading "Perfect Pitch" by Jon Steel about winning new business, and he makes the point that facts alone aren't enough. Citing the criminal trial of OJ Simpson, Steel points out that the prosecution focused a lot of attention on the bloody glove that linked (in their opinion) Simpson to the double murder. Yet Johnnie Cochran said if the glove "does not fit, you must acquit."

News organizations take facts and weave a narrative around them to make sense of the facts. To provide context. That's how you can have the New York Times and Wall St. Journal look at the same topic, reported similarly in their news pages, and take such different, opposing stances on their editorial pages.

That's not saying one paper is right and the other wrong. Just that interpretation of those facts is clearly important these days.

So how should we define what's credible? Is credibility in the eye of the beholder? Is it how the Supreme Court defined porn as you know it when you see it?

Organizations that seek to leverage social media will have to figure out how they can be credible, how they can engage their audiences, without turning them off.

The FTC has issued new rules that bloggers must comply with in terms of disclosing gifts or payments from companies. Will that ensure credibility?

People can now get paid for tweeting paid-for messages.

I think we've got to be very careful about being accurate and credible or else you'll turn off the very people you're trying to reach.

That's one of the challenges to leverage social media.

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