A Matter of Trust: A Prospectus on Improving Levels of Trust between Military Public Affairs and the Media


Military public affairs and the media have historically had a dynamic relationship. Because each relies on the other to accomplish its mission, the quality of the relationship greatly impacts each other's success. Although many factors contribute to the quality of the relationship, few have the same impact as trust. The elusive and fragile nature of trust makes it one of the most difficult characteristics to maintain. Therefore, if several variables affecting the level of trust can be identified and manipulated, trust could be increased.

Trust is the willingness of a party to be vulnerable to the actions of another party based on the expectations that the other will perform a particular action important to the trustor, irrespective of the ability to monitor or control that other party. It is applicable to a relationship with another identifiable party who is perceived to act and react with volition toward the trustor (Mayer & Davis, 1995).

Communication is essential in fostering an environment of trust. The value placed in communication is derived from the reliability, timeliness (Cufaude, 1999), predictability, consistency, and dependability of the partner's actions (Zaheer, McEvily, & Perrone, 1998). Furthermore, trust can be measured on the interpersonal or organizational level.
Several factors form the basis of trust on the interpersonal level. Expertness, reliability, and dynamism are widely accepted as variables that contribute to building interpersonal trust. Expertness refers to the expertise and knowledge of the subject matter. Reliability addresses the dependability of the partner. Dynamism refers to the confidence level of the partner. Organizational trust factors are slightly different than interpersonal ones.

Competence, integrity and rapport are factors that determine organizational trust. Whether a partner is properly or sufficiently qualified in his role describes competence. Integrity encompasses the extent of honesty, commitment, and adherence to a set of principles the partner exhibits. Acting fair and honoring agreements also contribute to integrity. Rapport involves the level of the relationship. Understanding of roles and responsibilities within the relations as well as a shared vision, purpose and direction also define rapport.
In this prospectus, a survey was created using both sets of trust factors to form 28 Likert-type questions. The survey is used to measure the level of trust in local and national media. Media is operationally defined as television broadcast reporters, print journalists, radio news reporters, and wire news services.

After administering the survey initially to establish a baseline trust level, the survey will be re-administered three additional times throughout the following year. Three situations have been identified as opportunities to measure trust.
Planned operations, emergency situations, and shifts in policy are the three main categories used to judge trust. Planned operations are defined as long-range exercises of which the public affairs officer has prior knowledge. Emergency situations encompass natural disasters, military accidents or any unplanned event that requires immediate
response. Policy shifts involve the dissemination of new guidance at the service level or the Department of Defense level.

Upon administering the survey, the results will indicate which one or more factors are lower than others. Identifying these variables will allow them to be positively manipulated to improve the level of trust. Because trust is dynamic, it is constantly changing as it cycles through phases of building, stabilizing and dissolving. During each step in the evolution of trust, the survey can provide valuable information for increasing trust levels.