We recently had the chance to speak with Janine Allen, president of Kaiser & Partners, who provided her insightful opinions on the third annual Canadian media sentiment survey released by Kaiser & Partners, the factors that contributed to the decline in media trust over the past two years and solutions for them, shared her views on the finding that younger Canadians are more likely to rely on information sources than older residents, and the growing popularity of podcasts among younger generation.
With 20 years’ experience in public relations and marketing, Janine Allen, CM, is the president of Kaiser & Partners, a Canadian communications firm. Janine develops and oversees strategic communications programs that enhance visibility and transform relationships. She helps clients manage through challenge and change, protecting and repairing corporate brand reputation. Janine is an active board member of CPRS Toronto and the Pickering Baseball Association.
How would you define your professional career, which has involved working with clients to discover communications solutions to business problems across a range of industries?
To solve problems, whether reputationally or otherwise, I believe you have to have an almost insatiable curiosity. Only when you have openly explored your client’s industries, businesses and the issues that matter to their stakeholders, can you begin to repair, shape or strengthen its reputation. My career has developed through this sense of curiosity; caring enough to uncover the stories that people will celebrate and rally behind, but also bold enough to ask the tough questions to assess risks to reputation and find solutions before they become issues.
What do you have to say about the third annual Canadian media sentiment survey announced by Kaiser & Partners this year?
As partners of the media, PR professionals have a public responsibility to communicate the truth, and our survey revealed that of all listed news and information channels, media remain the most trusted source of information. In 2021, established news media was identified as the most credible source of information by over half of Canadians (53%) and in 2022 this wavered only marginally, losing seven percentage points from 2020 to 2022. However, trust is trending downwards dramatically in other areas. For example, credibility is largely declining across public and government entities. Credibility in information released by governments is down to 29 per cent (compared to 42% in 2021), and only one-third (34%) of Canadians considered public health agencies to be the most credible source of information. This represents a 23-percentage point drop since 2020. This is undoubtedly a consequence of the pandemic when public entities became more public facing. At a time when the world was on pause, their messaging was put under the microscope and their reputations suffered.
What elements, in your opinion, have led to a decline in media trust during the past two years? What are the solutions to this problem?
Traditional forms of media have been under threat for years, in part due to the adoption of social media. Social media and open-source content enables anyone and everyone to act as journalists – without being bound by the same rigour and ethics of professional journalists. Further, anonymity online shields contributors from the repercussions of disseminating inaccurate, misleading or flagrant information. However, social media shouldn’t shoulder all the blame. There’s no medal for second place in news media, and unfortunately, some outlets may prioritize speed over accuracy, neglecting their due diligence to be the first to the story. And as newsrooms shrink, factcheckers are either eliminated or under increased pressure, compounding the problem further.
Shorter attention spans have increased preference for shorter-form content, leaving less space on the page and in people’s minds for the data and references that provide contextual value and credibility to a story. And of course, we can’t talk about the news without “fake news”. Arguably one of the most enduring and ubiquitous political expressions in recent history, Trump’s “fake news” permeated our culture, serving as a rallying cry for distrust of the establishment and continues to have ripple effects in how people, on both sides of the border, feel about media.
Media is still trusted and is still trust-worthy, but media and consumers alike have to work hard to maintain strong news consumption and dissemination habits. As PR and marketing professionals, we have a duty to only share content that is data-based, fact-checked and delivered by a credible expert spokesperson. And as individuals, we must take more care in not sharing information from questionable or anonymous sources.
What do you think of the finding that younger Canadians are more likely to rely on information sources than older residents, according to the data?
Our survey found that the younger generation (18-34) are less likely to believe that traditional news media is the most credible source of information (36%) compared to their older counterparts. They also tend to be more open to trusting alternative sources of news, such as expert content on social media (22%), blogs or other online content from industry experts (16%), or content from interest groups and Non-Governmental Organizations (15%).
This paints a picture for the future of news and information sharing. The vehicles by which people consume content continue to evolve, and as new platforms and preferences surface, understanding these nuances will help both companies and media deliver accurate information in a format that is appealing for all audiences.
How are media like podcasts growing in popularity as news sources for younger Canadians? Are they finding them to be useful sources of information?
Podcasts are the news source that has seen the biggest shift in adoption among young Canadians. In fact, 17 per cent say that they are listening to podcasts more this year compared to last year. Simultaneously, short-form content platforms like TikTok have taken off, tipping the scales to the extreme ends of the media spectrum. This polarity in preferences speaks to the complexity of the media landscape: while the escapism of short-form content provides instant gratification to consumers of media, there is also a growing hunger for longer-form content like podcasts. Podcasts are a great medium for deeper storytelling, investigative content as well as entertainment, and are becoming an increasingly important tool in the marketing and PR toolbox.
What are, in your opinion, the key elements that Canadians should consider when choosing news sources? Could you provide further details on the development of the Canadian media landscape?
According to an analysis conducted by The Local News Research Project, from 2008 to 2020, 307 Canadian news outlets closed, and the majority (215) of which are community newspapers. With less papers to pick from and fewer perspectives to consider, your subscription choice is that much more powerful. Studies also show that loss of access to local news is linked to increased political polarization, reduced public input into municipal decision-making, declines in voter turnout, better re-election prospects for incumbents and the emergence of hyper-partisan websites.
We consume massive amounts of media every day, and like they say, you are what you eat. As the media landscape continues to evolve, don’t be blasé about how you are consuming content, and what content you are consuming. Be deliberate. Does the outlet publish their journalistic standards? Do they include opinions and/or interviews with credible spokespeople? Is there a real person who can be contacted by email or phone? This shows that they stand behind their content and that you will be able to, too.