Traditional media are fighting a trust battle and losing.

To get the public’s trust back, Digital First Media CEO John Paton says news organisations need to listen to their customers.

"The customers have spoken. But are we listening? I would argue: not nearly hard enough," he said Monday at the 82nd INMA World Congress.

Paton’s talk came on the heels of one by Amy Leyh, director of digital circulation marketing for Dow Jones & Company, who gave an example of how the Wall Street Journal changed a business model to incorporate online products into one price package after listening to its customers.

Paton pointed to the 1970s, when newspapers were "soaring" with revenue and trust. 

Since then, there's been a "cultural blindness" to recognize the need for change, resulting in four decades of declining trust in newspapers in the United States.

Nowadays more people are trusting information received directly from the public. Technology puts the public in the "publishing game." What used to be the audience are now competitors. 

Paton said 92 percent of people trust recommendations from people they know, compared to 46 percent who trust newspapers.

"We sit in newsrooms all across this land and have editors tell you that using Facebook and Twitter as a journalist is a waste of time," he said.

Even worse, he continued, there are executives who don't use social media and don't let content flow into the "new news ecosystem." He said that kind of mindset from those in charge is the single largest impediment to change in newsrooms.

He said it's all becoming simple math now: One dollar of profit today will turn into more than one dollar of loss five years down the road. 

He pointed to how disproportionate advertising spending is compared to where customers are going to get their content. Consumers spend 8 percent of their media time with print, but print is getting 30 percent of advertising dollars. Time spent on internet and mobile is 33 percent and growing, yet those channels gets 19 percent of ad spending. He said that imbalance is not capitalizing on $20 billion of advertising opportunities.

"If we don't summon courage to dramatically change our industry's culture, we're not committed to (changing) these kind of numbers," he said.

"Too many newspapers are still working on an internal clock of putting out the paper, then thinking about digital," Paton said. "They have not thought through when and where to publish stories…nor have they reworked their newsroom workflows to adjust to their audience.

“Are you really going to save your big enterprise story for the Sunday paper when your biggest audience is, say, Thursday online at 1 o'clock in the afternoon?…It's time to start making the right choices and right journalism on the right platforms."