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7 steps to improve your media brand’s transparency, bolster consumer trust

11 June 2014 · By Anette Novak

When it comes to transparency, media companies need to start practicing what they preach by exposing the inner workings of their news operations to public view.

Any media company relies on open access to information principles to be successful in compiling interesting stories. Reporters and editors demand openness from people in power.

But do you realise your audiences demand the equivalent from you?

Let me put it to you: No, you don’t. Your transparency work is failing. And it’s failing hard.

This is particularly troublesome since it carries the solution to weakening audience trust, offers an easy way to lower your costs – and could actually be the factor that differentiates you from Google.

During a recent lecture tour to Finland, working for business university Hanken and their clients (a multi-national retail chain), I stumbled upon the following astonishing case:

Some years ago, pharmaceutical giant Roche had identified bureaucracy as a major challenge – and one area it wished to specifically address was travel expenses. At the time of the experiment, managers had to sign-off on each and every receipt, a heavy and costly routine.

Letting go of control would have been impossible in the old days (what would staff do if they could travel anywhere they want, without having hierarchy check up on them?!). But now the company decided to try a new approach: It published all the expenses on the Intranet – for colleagues and superiors to see.

Prior to this experiment, the company thought travel costs would increase. What do you think happened? Well, you’re right. The costs went down, significantly.

So why don’t all executives around the world just adopt and happily watch the automatically positive results?

Well, transparency is an extremely challenging tool, on a deeply personal level. It is like a constant conscience – throwing back in our faces who we really are, through the eyes of the beholders.

And in the face of possible disclosure of our shortcomings (be it idleness or greed), we prefer to play it safe.

One of my researchers at Interactive Institute Swedish ICT – an experimental research institute that focuses on interaction design and the exploration of  user experiences – is currently using his own life as a testbed. He has connected every piece of electric equipment in his house to the Internet, compiling his own user data in great detail.

“First time I saw it,” he admitted, “I was scared. But then after a while, we all got used to it in the family. Now we mainly notice the advantages.”

Smart homes might sound geeky and cool.

The point is: If you work in a glass house, you are forced to practice what you preach. You are forced to alter your behaviours. In the Roche case, behaviours changed to reflect higher moral standards. In the Interactive Institute case, they changed to achieve a more sustainable lifestyle.

But transparency is not merely a personal matter.

Bringing it into your business, it can mean the difference between success and failure – especially in these times when audience’s trust in legacy media declines

Here are 7 transparency steps you can take to counter this downward spiraling curve:

  1. Publish policies.

  2. … and the failures to meet them (with detailed explanations as to why).

  3. Make editors’ decisions public (and discuss them openly).

  4. Open your news desk toward the crowd – co-create news lists, content, and angles with your former audience-turned-co-producers.

  5. Describe in detail your work methods (without revealing anonymous sources).

  6. Publish the time utilised creating a specific piece of content.

  7. Reveal all potential biases.

 The St. Thomas “seeing is believing” approach has never been more hot. And despite this, we note how digital giants Google and Facebook are not nearly as open as the portray themselves.

A little over a year ago, I searched the name of a French vineyard, on a French computer, in France, using google.fr. To my surprise, the entire first page proposed English language links to U.S. wine columnists. Even though there was nothing whatsoever in my search that indicated I wanted a U.S. context.

This credibility wreckage can only be repaired with transparency. If the opaque platforms won’t open, it is only a question of time before we see the birth of a new, open, and ethical search engine. A search engine that allows me to see the building blocks of the algorithm. That allows me to alter it – or even build my own.

What do you think? Would you rather trust an open search engine that you can affect – or the non-transparent one where you have no means of understanding what content you are served and why?

I, for one, would move all my searches to the transparency version faster than you can type Google.


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About this blog

I am Anette Novak, CEO of Interactive Institute Swedish ICT, which conducts world-class applied research and innovation, creating groundbreaking user experiences. Also, I am an international media consultant, World Editors Forum board member, gourmet, long distance runner and Francophile – mainly because the Parisians walk and talk as fast as I do. I am former editor-in-chief of the Swedish regional media house Norran. I believe in digital opportunities for publishers, open innovation. The future belongs to media companies that are able to maintain the trust of the audience, who define themselves as active community players, and who are able to create amazing experiences.


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