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Do We Still Need a “Most Trusted Man in America”?

Believe it or not, I grew up in a time when the “most trusted man in America” was Walter Cronkite. Every evening, my Dad would come home from work, have a Martini or an Old Fashioned and watch Walter tell him what happened that day. If we wanted time with Dad, we either waited or sat on the floor while he watched. It just was how it was in those days. Walter, and the Oregonian, were where my parents got their news. It was a pretty typical household. We watched Walter tell us about the Viet Nam War, JFK being shot, the Moon Landing and many other astonishing events that rocked our world. We just knew he was telling us the truth.

Some time in my teens, the “radio” came into play as well. The “radio” was where my Mom got her information during the day – before Dad came home to watch Walter. The radio was this new breed called Public Radio and they did in-depth stories Walter wasn’t able to do on television news. The stories led to really cool dinner conversations (with the whole family) because there was more information that often included both sides of a story.

Shocking as it may seem to some, we didn’t have computers, cell phones, email or even fax machines. There were three networks, a few radio stations and the daily newspaper. In most families the news was supplemented by fabulous conversation and we were always encouraged to join in. We used to love to get together with another family to “debate” the issues.

Today, with the advent of the Web, email, texting and various social media tools we’ve all become experts. Some aren’t sure there’s a place for mainstream media anymore. There’s talk social media tools are replacing the network news programs, newspapers and radio news. I’m not so sure though. While these are great sources for information, connections, relationships and community…just who is the most trusted man/woman in America.

In the past 12 months, there have been several world events that unfolded on social media, before they were reported on traditional media. In most cases, the story that in the end was accurate was a combination of social media blips and investigative reporting. Today, we’re all so quick to read and “retweet” or forward, so we are first with the news, we aren’t taking the few minutes to make sure what we’re saying is accurate. As communicators, it’s critical we take that extra few minutes to say…I wonder if this could really be true, verify and ask a few questions before passing on information. We must ensure what we’re “reporting” is fair, accurate and truthful or we won’t be trusted.

In thinking about this post, it made me wonder who the most trusted man/woman in America is today? While the days of having someone like Walter are most likely gone, I wonder where we’ll go next. Who’s your most trusted man/woman? Why? Where do you see us going?

By | 2018-03-18T23:03:43+00:00 January 14th, 2010|Leadership & Networking|12 Comments

About the Author:

Mary Deming Barber, APR, Fellow PRSA, runs a strategic communications consultancy where she helps clients understand how to integrate new media into traditional communication programs. Mary has counseled clients in Tacoma, Anchorage, San Francisco, Oregon, and Colorado for nearly 40 years working with a variety of food organizations, several agencies, and as a key team member on two successful US Senate campaigns. 


12 Comments

  1. Lindsay M. Allen January 14, 2010 at 3:43 pm - Reply

    GREAT point, Mary! It’s definitely very timely, too, given the number of times I’ve tweeted on Twitter or posted comments on Facebook to set the record straight about relief efforts in Haiti … specifically, trying to help people understand what companies are NOT doing, since there are all sorts of incorrect rumors circulating about companies providing free services tied to relief efforts.

    When it comes to debunking rumors, I often turn to CNN, Google News or even Snopes.com. It’s amazing how a quick search or two can yield trustworthy results that prove the rumors wrong. So, I guess my “trusted man/woman” is electronic … but it still comes down to trusting mainstream media outlets versus tweets and Facebook posts, in most cases.

    • mary January 14, 2010 at 3:47 pm - Reply

      I agree Lindsay. I love the new media tools and employ them freely. However, I believe we all have an obligation to make sure our “reporting” is fair and accurate. I still rely on network news and try to verify tweets/Facebook news before passing it on.

      Thanks for coming by the blog. I hope you’ll come back again.

  2. Jeff White January 14, 2010 at 8:32 pm - Reply

    You are more than right. It is a responsibility for social engagement and discussion because these new forms and styles of communication have ethical aspects that extend beyond previous email forwarding, chain letter, word-of-mouth gossip forms of interpersonal information distribution. They can be global in minutes.

    Mary, that was the root of my FB status post last night. I come across so many “10 steps to improve your Tweeting,” etc articles that are the equivalent of the equally arrestive discourses in “Men’s Health” and “Cosmo.” These posts things have their place as well. We need folks teaching some practical uses; however, a dialog on the obligations per user is more important.

  3. Good Points, Mary. I’m not sure if we need the same kinda felaa these days…or, at least, not in the same kind of way…I do believe that having news organizations and news people wiht INTEGRITY is extremely important. I just think that b/c there is SO MUCH accessibility to getting news from a variety of organizations and in a variety of ways, there may not necessarily be the need for a ‘most trusted man’ so much as there are now trusted resources…and even then, folks like to double-check those facts…against their own ‘trusted resources’…it’s all funny.

    HOWEVER, given the fact that there are some cracks in the foundation that have been exposed, people aren’t as trusting as they used to be…people want more fact-checking…want to know what you political slant may be…who your sponsors are (as this may affect your bias)…all this stuff comes into play now…and it can be quite confusing.

    All this aside, I still belive ther are absolutes and facts are facts. If anything the more we try to use all of these tools TOGETHER, the more fair and balanced a news organization / person will be seen. We just have to remember that we’re living in the 21st century…and we need to, like the news, adapt to the way people want their news while still holding to the GOLD STANDARD that Cronkite established with his integrity.

    My Two Cents 🙂

    Narciso Tovar
    Big Noise Communications
    @Narciso17

    • mary January 15, 2010 at 1:33 pm - Reply

      I hear what you’re saying Narciso, especially about there being so MUCH information out there. I just worry when we’re in such a race to be first that we don’t take the time to check. That is, IMO contributing to the lack of trust. I’m not sure, either, that we can return to the days when we (blindly) trusted people either which is really how it was when I was young. I would like us to trust more but that trust has to be earned, through honesty and transparency. Let’s keep up the good fight!

  4. Gina Romero January 16, 2010 at 9:43 am - Reply

    I think mainstream media still does have an important role. That place is to confirm facts and report accurate information – to set the record straight. The Twitter community for instance, is not going to wait for the news to air in the evening, but they will take note of tweets from legitimate news organizations. I do feel that mainstream media needs to better understand that their readers have changed and are often better at finding information than some journalists. It’s an exciting evolution that I’m watching with great interest. Thanks Mary for this post and for generating authentic, meaningful discussion.

  5. Kellye Crane January 19, 2010 at 2:03 pm - Reply

    Congrats on your new blog, Mary! Thanks for raising this interesting and important issue. In one example, in recent months I’ve seen a number of “surveys” make news in social media circles, and the results just don’t pass the sniff test. People seem quick to trust this kind of information, even when on a cursory inspection one can see that the survey sample is self-selected and small. Yet those “facts” now turn up again and again in presentations.

    This is why I was so disappointed by the whole “balloon boy” debacle. In my opinion, traditional media’s only hope is to be thorough and cautious — and as a result, more trusted — than the get-it-live-quick culture of the Internet.

    • mary January 19, 2010 at 2:58 pm - Reply

      Kellye, I agree with you and the “balloon boy” was only one of the most visible times lately when the rush to be first was so awful to watch. Trust is very difficult to regain once it’s lost. I’m hoping this year might bring some ways we can weigh the consequences of losing the public’s trust against that need to be first.

  6. Alison Kenney January 19, 2010 at 2:54 pm - Reply

    I would say that, like the media, we have multiple trusted men/women depending on the topic. And just like the shrinking rates of news cycles and media attention spans, these men/women seem to gain and lose their “must trusted” status faster than ever (think of news casters or anchors who have devolved over time into a far left of far right political spokesperson). Thinking about this also gets me thinking of the importance of reputation management and PR when one tries to cultivate a “most trusted” status…

  7. Blake Lewis January 25, 2010 at 3:17 pm - Reply

    Hi, Mary… Interesting discussion line in light of the story that has been moving around the Internet on the five journalists being locked up in a rural farmhouse in France and forced to get their news strictly from social media. We spent some time on the topic in our weekly staff meeting — there were a range of opinions as to how appropriate and effective this would provide to be. Do we really “know” our sources today? Regardless of personal political and social interests and preferences, do they report the facts in an observed and reasonably unbiased manner. Can we define “trust” in news today? Is the Washington Post more trustworthy than the Huffington Post, or vice-versa. If the media are the fourth estate in government, are we headed down the correct trail?

    • mary January 25, 2010 at 3:41 pm - Reply

      Blake, I agree with you and that’s where I was headed too. Maybe I listen to you and trust you because I’ve come to know you but…is that the same/better than when we blindly trusted people like Walter C. And what concerns me is that we can choose to just watch/listen/read right wing or left wing media and after a while there is no other side because I’ve just tuned it completely out. It’s going to be interesting to be part of what happens.

  8. Blake Lewis January 25, 2010 at 5:44 pm - Reply

    It all clearly requires the information consumer to be more educated about tasks that historically had been “owned” by editorial process and to be more discerning, as well. Unfortunately, this added set of responsibilities comes at a time when more people say they have less time. Wow!

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