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  • Writer's pictureAlexa Gutierrez

Public distrust in media and its impact on public relations

Americans are increasingly losing their trust in traditional institutions, and the media has been no exception. In these increasingly polarized times, many Americans perceive a lack of objectivity in news coverage. Not surprisingly, in 2020, 49% claimed to have very little or no trust in TV news, compared to 27% in 1994. This erosion in the confidence of the public’s perception of the media has impacted public relations.

The political environment affects public relations in many ways. “Partisan polarization leads us to strongly prefer to associate with people that confirm and reinforce our political identities,” said Casey B. K. Dominguez, professor of political science and international relations at the University of San Diego. “Right-wing media has spent decades undermining the credibility of mainstream news as a marketing tactic, which when added to polarized political identities means that many people who identify as conservative will only trust information from conservative sources.”

These times have affected public relations as it can be challenging to circulate information in an effective way. Media coverage typically serves as a third-party endorsement for companies. However, if people do not trust the information they receive from news outlets, receiving positive media coverage loses its value and appeal.

Tanya M. Castaneda, APR, suggested that “the growing public mistrust of mainstream media is well documented.” As a former journalist, she understands how hard news organizations work to get the facts and report them honestly. “It is troubling to me when I see Americans turning to fraudulent sites purporting to be “news” for their information. As a public relations professional, I always consider how well people trust the messenger of information. If they do not trust the media, what other messengers can be utilized to reach the target audience?” This may include bloggers, community leaders and “owned” channels, including a client’s branded social media accounts. Using their own channels can be an effective way for organizations to tell their stories transparently and truthfully.

The confidence of the public’s trust in the media is a never-ending battle. As hard as some news organizations work to get information, others need to work just as hard to decipher what’s true and what isn’t. Picking sides isn’t always the best way to go, and individuals need to consider the source, develop a critical mindset, examine the evidence, and see who else is reporting.

By Alexa Gutierrez

Alexa is a senior at San Diego State University majoring in public relations. Currently, she is working with the YMCA, aiding with their expanded learning programs. Post graduation, she hopes to be a sports publicist or social media manager.

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