Doveryáy, no proveryáy: Trust, but verify. President Reagan and Soviet General Secretary Gorbachev meet in December 1987.
(CC Federal Government)
Trusted content used to be infallible, concrete, and privileged. Perhaps it’s time to heed the Russian proverb: Doveryáy, no proveryáy. Trust, but verify — or at least discover how publishers of content (in media and marketing alike) verify the information they push to audiences.
How do you build trust now? Acknowledge uncertainty. Describe the process. Let readers share in evolution that is vital, vulnerable, and human. In a breaking news article about an Iranian attack on Iraqi military bases housing US troops, NPR deployed this strategy in innocuous, oft-skipped copy of the article footer:
This is a developing story. Some things reported by the media will later turn out to be wrong. We will focus on reports from officials and other authorities, credible news outlets and reporters who are at the scene. We will update as the situation develops.
Let’s unpack that footer. It’s clear, brave, and informative — pillars of good journalism, and key to any good content that aims to engage and motivate its audience.
This is a developing story.
“This is a developing story,” is common enough phrasing in journalism. It indicates breaking news. There’s value in being first, but more value in being right; this simple phrasing admits the report isn’t the final word — a point of vulnerability that separates confident punditry and cable news opinion programming from active reporting. It’s also a good differentiator between news journalism and the “journalism of affirmation” described by Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel in the seminal Blur: How to Know What’s True in the Age of Information Overload.
“The Journalism of Affirmation creates the impression that it is putting something in order, making sense of it . . . similar to that of the security and convenience offered by faith, as opposed to fact and empiricism.”
“The Journalism of Affirmation: its appeal is in affirming the preconceptions of the audience, assuring them, gaining their loyalty, and then converting that loyalty into advertising revenue,” they write. “The appeal of the journalism of affirmation is, in part, a response to the confusion of the 24/7 news culture . . . [It] creates the impression that it is putting something in order, making sense of it . . . similar to that of the security and convenience offered by faith, as opposed to fact and empiricism.”
Those four sentences elevate uncertainty, vulnerability, and an acknowledgment of learning and process that, rather than exposing weakness, cultivate strength.
Some things reported by the media will later turn out to be wrong.
Though “some things reported by the media will later turn out to be wrong,” may foreshadow errors in reporting, it allows for timely publishing — and it lets NPR share information and bring audiences into their process of learning and assessment with a disclaimer.
No hot takes here: Scientists find success with this approach when their labs share updates about potential advances in treatment. They stoke trust, interest, and investment in their work, even though it’s not final.
We will focus on reports from officials and other authorities, credible news outlets and reporters who are at the scene.
With this statement, NPR earns trust by sharing their process to verify and augment early reports. Expect eyewitness accounts, not hearsay. Expect authoritative statements, not irrelevance. Marketers can take a page from the detail in this level of vulnerability: don’t say “trust us” or “we have a process” if you won’t or can’t explain it.
Checklist excerpted from the Breaking News Consumer’s Handbook
We will update as the situation develops.
This final sentence is a commitment. In this time of increasing disinformation and punditry that masquerades as unbiased reporting, know that you can continue to check here to learn more, reader.
In sum, this throwaway footer paragraph offers so much — and so much that businesses and marketers need to offer as well. In four sentences, NPR describes their tactics for accountability, intent, and commitment to quality.
We talk of “thought leadership,” but without those components it’s empty. In this case, the tactics to foster trust literally make the news.