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It’s all about trust: How media reporting on tech differs between Canada and the United States

By Kathleen Reid, founder and chief communications officer at Switchboard Public Relations.

It never gets old seeing tech companies and organizations step into the media spotlight to share their innovation, passion and hard work. Since 2013 the Switchboard Team has helped clients secure coverage from hundreds of media outlets, so I know how game-changing this attention can be.

It’s exciting, to be sure, but also perplexing at times. Most coverage of our clients comes from outlets based in Canada and the United States, and I’m often intrigued by the cross-border differences in reporting styles.

That’s why the 2022 Digital News Report from the UK-based Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism caught my eye. Based on a survey of over 93,000 online news consumers in 46 markets covering half the world's population, the report’s findings in Canada and the U.S. have helped to confirm and crystallize my own experiences and observations. For instance:

In the media Americans do NOT trust 

While trust in news among Canadians has dipped from 58 to 42 percent over the past four years, Canada still scores higher than average in this area. The United States, on the other hand, comes dead last, with just 26 percent of respondents saying they trust news generally and only 41 percent saying they trust the news they themselves consume. Likewise, 29 percent of Canadians think the media is independent from undue political or government influence, while the American figure is a full 10 percentage points lower.

In my experience this trust divide is further polarizing American media coverage. Some U.S. outlets look to Switchboard to provide ample evidence that supports client messaging, presumably to counteract a lack of trust in their audience. Others do little or nothing with the evidence we provide, presumably out of the belief that it won’t go very far with their audience. Either way, this polarization of U.S. media has made Canadian coverage look relatively balanced, even if it has become more partisan in recent years.

Fewer Canadians pay for news

While Americans tend to distrust the media more than Canadians do, more Americans pay for online news: 19 percent vs. 15 percent of Canadians. I have noticed that the U.S. outlets that seek extra support for client messaging also tend to be the ones with paywalls in place, which supports my theory that the value of media coverage is not as dependent on trust as we might think. Being kept in the loop, particularly around business narratives, has value beyond the trustworthiness of what is being reported.

That’s why American outlets seem more apt to take a “just the facts” approach to reporting, while Canadian outlets tend to weave in related narratives and context that make stories resonate on a personal level and prompt readers to ask questions. Canadians seem to consume news in a more conversational way, while Americans use it more to oil the wheels of commerce.

Consider these late October headlines and story treatments relating to coverage of Spotify:

It’s all about trust: How media reporting on tech differs between Canada and the United States

The American story is matter-of-fact. The Canadian one is more emotional and relates directly to investors and Canada’s tech sector. As one poster in the comments section of the Globe story put it, “Canadians take a lot of pride in schadenfreude (taking pleasure in the misfortune of others).”

Americans look local

Local TV news is trusted by 54 percent of Americans, while world-famous national outlets like the New York Times, Washington Post and MSNBC are all at least 10 percentage points lower. Canadians, however, tend to trust national outlets like CTV, Global and CBC ahead of more locally-focused outlets like CityNews and CP24.

That is presumably why American media tend to look for local “hooks” for stories: New job opportunities, new real estate developments, new local investment, and so on. Canadian outlets don’t shy away from this kind of local coverage – far from it – but it is less of a focus.

Where do Canadian and U.S. media look most alike?

Canadian and American media outlets that cater to specific industry audiences, otherwise known as “trade media,” tend to have more in common than their mainstream counterparts do. That’s why American tech trades are often just as approachable and responsive to story pitches from Canadian tech companies as Canadian trade media. It’s not personal, it’s business!

This is good news for Canadian tech firms, especially startups, given that trade coverage and editorial support can yield so many business benefits. For instance:

  • As well as catering to tech-focused audiences, many trades use contextual matching technology to attach banner ads to relevant editorial content. If your company is covered in that content, the accompanying ads usually generate leads much more effectively

  • Backlinks in trade coverage are great business validators and can help with SEO, too

  • Tech marketers can outsource webinars, videos, podcasts and more to tech trades easily and cost-effectively.

  • Sponsored content produced and published by trades can drive traffic to tech companies’ websites and generate leads almost as effectively as earned coverage can. I’m always impressed by Vancouver Tech Journal’s sponsored content, for instance.

On that note, drop me a line at [email protected] if your business needs guidance on any of this. It’s what I do, after all, and if you end up getting some well-deserved media attention on either or both sides of the border it’ll make us BOTH happy.

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