Can Time Reverse the “Crisis” of Trust?

Crisis Communications
trust 06.01.20

Any casual observer can say there’s a building trust issue with the media at large. Most consumers will say that they trust a few outlets but greatly distrust the others, mostly along partisan lines. It’s a touchy subject in some circles, but one that requires some reconciling, especially since people still get their perspectives and messaging through media sources.

Recently, the head of one powerful media brand described this issue as “a crisis of trust.” Speaking to CNN’s “Reliable Sources,” Time Magazine owner Marc Benioff said he sees a “crisis of trust,” not just in the media, but in the world at large. Time, he hopes, will be part of the solution to this emerging problem.

“When you look at what’s happening with social media, the types of decisions that are being made in regards to artificial intelligence and next-generation technologies,” Benioff said, “We’re finding ourselves quite vested in a crisis of trust.”

Benioff is not alone in this sentiment. He and his wife, Lynne, are among several big-money investors who have purchased traditional media brands in recent years. As examples, Jeff Bezos famously bought The Washington Post. Laurene Jobs owns a majority stake in The Atlantic.

Benioff says being a “steward of trust” is “one of the core values” of Time, though, for many Americans, this statement would be greeted as a laugh line. Indeed, when Time announced its “Person of the Year” for 2019, the decision was met with loud and ongoing derision from many American consumers who believe the magazine is a shell of its former self.

If Benioff wants his publication to regain its status as an icon of American media, he will have to win over at least some of these outspoken doubters, as well as many in the silent majority who are sick of all the ongoing and increasing partisanship in media.

That might be a problem. Benioff has claimed that the Person of the Year issue, with teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg on the cover, is “probably the most successful issue of all time.” Benioff, telegraphing his bias, has been very outspoken on the subject of climate change. Others have panned the decision to put Greta on the cover, condemning the decision as a failure to accurately reflect what the cover of “Person of the Year” should mean. Harsher critics were even more blunt, calling Time out of touch and out of influence.

If this apparent disconnect with a significant potential audience troubles Benioff, he’s not showing it, saying, “We have… lots of exciting things that we do… We want to be the stewards of this historic brand… give them the ability to move forward…”

When questioned about the disconnect, Benioff blamed social media, saying social platforms and the content shared on them is, “why we’re squarely in a crisis of trust.” Some would cheer that sentiment. Others would laugh. This may be the result of Time not understanding its audience, or of the publication having already decided who it wishes its audience to be.

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