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Opinion: Transparency, humility are building blocks of trust

Truth Be Told

Posted online

A group of leaders from Springfield Business Journal recently attended a conference in Columbus, Ohio, with peers from across the country, Canada and Australia.

I’m sure you’re familiar with that post-conference glow. Full of great ideas, new connections and a renewed energy for excellence.

One session for editors that has particularly stuck with me was on the topic of trust in the media. It was, perhaps not surprisingly, a theme of the conference.

Lynn Walsh joined us from Trusting News, where she serves as assistant director. The organization is a project of the Reynolds Journalism Institute at University of Missouri and The American Press Institute. She says trust in media organizations and journalists has been trending down since Gallup began surveying Americans on the topic in the 1970s. The data show 36% of those in the U.S. have a “great deal” or “fair amount” of trust in mass media. That number is higher for local media than national news media, but the trends remain consistent.

Another national study on trust is conducted by the Edelman Trust Barometer, which finds that mistrust in general is becoming more standard practice. Nearly 6 in 10 of people in the Edelman survey say their default tendency is to distrust something until they see evidence it is trustworthy. The Edelman results differ slightly from Gallup, but generally find just half of those surveyed trust media organizations; that’s behind government (52%), nongovernment organizations (59%) and business (61%). In fact, they find that of studied institutions, businesses again ranked as the most trusted by Americans. That employee-employer relationship is where some of the most trust is found (77%).

Trust is not a given for any organization, and it’s critical that we all find ways to boost these numbers. For media organizations like SBJ, trust is the critical factor in what makes our business successful. I’ve come back from the conference with several ideas specific to our organization, but the applications to the larger business community shine through.

Here are my takeaways from Walsh’s presentation on building trust:

  1. Talk to your audience. Ask specific questions about how they feel about your organization. Dig deeply into their feelings and gently challenge their assumptions.
  2. Pull back the curtain. Being a consumer is overwhelming. No one follows an industry as closely as the people inside. What is confusing about your business, your processes and your policies, and how can you adjust? Take the time to show your stakeholders how your organization works.
  3. Acknowledge wrongdoing. There are bad actors in every field. You don’t represent your entire industry; you represent your company. Tell the story of how and why you are different.
  4. Share. You can’t get credit for something your stakeholders don’t know about. What are you doing well or differently? Find avenues to get this information to the people who need to hear it.
  5. Formalize a policy. A written statement outlining ethics, values and policies would serve both internally and externally to keep your organization on mission and boost transparency about areas of your organization that can be misunderstood.

Building trust begins with humility. We’re not a perfect organization, and we’re staffed by imperfect people. But we have a dedication to excellence, and we meet that bar consistently with the policies and procedures we follow each day. We’ll tell you when we mess up, and we’ll tell you when we did something right.

Building trust boils down to strong relationships. Thank you for being a part of that equation.

Springfield Business Journal Executive Editor Christine Temple can be reached at ctemple@sbj.net.

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