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Building Trust, Moving People

Audio is Essential to Rebuilding Faith in American Institutions

By Sarah Harris, Vice President, Social Impact, Entercom

February 16, 2021
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In recent months, faith in American civic institutions has sunk to perilous lows. Disdain for polarizing media and skepticism about election integrity, distrust in law enforcement and the riot at the U.S. Capitol—all reveal the widening gap between citizens, their communities, and their government. If our nation is going to emerge from the crisis and discord of 2020, it’s imperative to rebuild civic trust. At Entercom, we are deeply committed to that process because we know audio will play an essential role. By investing energy and resources in the many communities where we have long-standing relationships, we are poised to strengthen our nation and its people.

To foster civic trust, both education and engagement are critical. When we talk about civic education, we’re teaching people how their government works, from municipal meetings about potholes to passing a law in Congress. Civic engagement, meanwhile, is about converting knowledge into action: convening a meeting between people and their representatives, peaceful protest, or even simply writing a letter. We’ve invested in both education and engagement for a long time – through the KYW News Studies program, ongoing PSAs supporting the National Constitution Center, and promoting ambitious local programs like the Civic Spring Project. We do this because we believe the greatest potential for change lies at the community level, where Entercom maintains strong relationships between our stations and the people they serve.

This past January demonstrated the power of American democracy —and the fragile foundation on which it sits. That is why civic learning and productive engagement to address local needs has never been more important. We’re thrilled to have a partner in Entercom – an organization with wide reach and deep local connections – to help advance this imperative work. They understand that any true, substantive change needs to come from local community members, who, if given the right tools and support, will help ensure a resilient democracy."

- Rajiv Vinnakota, President, The Institute for Citizens & Scholars

Despite their faltering faith in government institutions, people respect voices that come directly from their communities, voices that can speak to the issues that matter most. As a nation, we often focus on national headlines, to the point where we overlook the issues that really affect people: school boards and snow plowing, a new library or fire station. These local issues are tangible in a way that national policy is not—it’s where people actually encounter government in real life. Local media has always been strongest when it reports on these subjects. Entercom’s Engaged Impressions study1 found that 71% of weekly radio listeners tune in because they feel the content is relevant to their community. Research like this indicates that listeners continue to trust local media. Indeed, that trust is the underlying motivation for why they listen. Tapping into that trust is key for any organization that wants to restore belief in American institutions.

Audio is uniquely well suited to this task. Of all media, local or otherwise, audio (over the air, streaming, podcasting) is most trusted. That means people have more faith in audio than anything they see on TV, read in the newspaper, and especially, more than anything they see on social media. Our voices – in stories and reporting – are among the most trusted news outlets in the United States. We want to leverage that trust to educate citizens and help them engage their government with greater efficacy.

To really connect with communities, we rely on our wide network of local influencers. The Engaged Impressions1 study found that broadcast listeners tune in for local content and because they feel a personal connection to the host. People respond when a host feels like a neighbor. After all, wouldn’t you listen more readily to the advice of a friend than that of a pundit? Influencers like these will be essential to rebuilding bonds between citizens and the institutions that serve them.

By committing to civic education and engagement at the local level, we can kick off a chain reaction in communities. When you educate people, you empower them to take action. When people actively engage their local government, they learn more about how the system works. What’s more, this behavior spreads quickly— when people see others act, they are more likely to do so themselves. By tapping into our platform of local resources, Entercom can serve as a catalyst for this kind of positive feedback loop.

For all these reasons and more, Entercom is putting the work into civic education and engagement. As a nation, we need to rekindle faith in our institutions and each other. It won’t be easy. We believe that by meeting people on their home ground and discussing the local issues that matter most to them, we can affect real progress. We invite any brand that shares that goal to join with us. With our vast network of trusted local voices, we are poised to make a difference in the ongoing effort to strengthen American democracy. Those looking to restore faith in American government and civility between Americans at large will find a willing and ready partner in Entercom.

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1  Entercom’s Engaged Impressions Custom Study, Alter Agents, August-October 2020

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