I’ve been ruminating recently about trust and our relationship with the truth. Yes, very deep, I know. Specifically, I’ve been philosophising about trust and the role news organisations have to play within this space.

At its core trust is a basic reliability, a truth. It’s what human relationships are built upon — losing trust in a person you once had unwavering faith in can push a relationship to the brink of no return. So, it’s no surprise that amidst reports of fake news and disinformation, we see the dial shifting globally on consumer trust barometers.

Fake news and disinformation have been around for a long time, but news media still has a responsibility to establish trust.
Fake news and disinformation have been around for a long time, but news media still has a responsibility to establish trust.

But is disinformation or fake news really a new phenomenon?

Recently, I attended the keynote speech at the IFRA World Publishing conference in Berlin. On the issue of trust and manipulation, Matthias Döpfner, CEO of Axel Springer, spoke about how the fake news debate is not a new phenomenon. False news dates back to the medieval times, a time when people exchanged “fake news” in the marketplace.

This got me thinking: Really, in its simplest form, fake news is the broadcasting of an untruth. And, yes, it is fair to say people have been doing this since the beginning of time.

What has changed, however, is the technology we use for delivering messages. The method and way in which these untruths are broadcast is now so instantaneous and wide-reaching that, at the click of a button, the occurrence of disinformation can be pushed out to the masses. The damage to a brand finding itself associated with such a situation can be hard-hitting and immediate.

Conversely, in an age when disinformation can be amplified and accelerated in such a mammoth way, surely truth, fact-finding, and real journalism play an even bigger role for both reader and brand.

The truth is out there and valuable.

Think about when a catastrophe hits. Where do you go to seek out information? Where do you end up on your quest for the truth when you want to find the analysis behind the headlines? You search out the fact finder: independent, objective journalism.

Just last month when Storm Ophelia hit Irish shores, the nation was put on a status red warning, which essentially meant, for our own safety, we were supposed to stay indoors and make no unnecessary journeys. Schools closed and businesses allowed staff to work from home, where possible. Sadly, we had some fatalities.

From our homes we sought out breaking news, weather reports, and school closures. Irish citizens sought out the truth — the facts on what was happening around the country. Where did people turn? They turned to trusted, verified news sources. Our own flagship Web site, Independent.ie, experienced extraordinary record growth in traffic and engagement during this time, a clear reflection of the role trusted and verified news sources play within our society.

And then, of course, there is the overarching halo effect that trustworthy sources and products provide. A trusted source attracts audience and favourable association. For brands that advertise with news organisations, this is extremely important. You will find that, in general, news titles have positive net promoter scores (NPS). This is not surprising, as many are steeped in heritage and habitual behaviour and are engrained in the everyday lives of their readers.

But the value of trust cannot be underplayed. By advertising with trusted news titles with positive NPS, brands or industries with low scores have the potential to boost their own NPS by affirmative association. The return on investment for brands then becomes a lot more than just monitory. The icing on the cake is that by advertising with trusted news brands, there is considerable monetary return on investment too.

In 2016, Independent News & Media conducted an econometric study to investigate that very association between advertiser and the trusted news brand.

What we learned is print advertising drives 25% of all sales delivered by media. It also acts as an influential conduit driving customers to other channels. On average, 10% of landing page visits delivered by print advertising and 20% of pay-per-click sales (PPCS) originated from the medium. For retailers, the relationship is impressive with print advertising returning up to €39 for every €1 spent.

To this point I say, amongst the chatter of fake news and disinformation, we cannot be complacent on the value of truth and trust. Trust is critical against this backdrop. The value of independent journalism, and trusted and verified news, is more than a narrative. It is our currency.