Does Your Reader Trust You?

There’s a famous photo of Lyndon B. Johnson sitting despondently, with his head in his hands after he learned that, in a rare moment of editorializing, the venerable CBS news anchor Walter Cronkite characterized the Vietnam War as all but lost.

For nineteen tumultuous years, millions of Americans had tuned in every night to hear Walter Cronkite report on the state of affairs. When Walter Cronkite spoke, America listened.

Do our readers trust us that much?

Trust is a multilayered thing built over time. Here are a few qualities that Cronkite had that writers who seek to cultivate trust should consider:

1.  Authenticity

As writers, we have to speak the truth as we know it, no matter our genre. Sometimes this requires that we show parts of ourselves we’d prefer to keep hidden, including perhaps our vulnerabilities.

2.  Accuracy

As writers, we must recognize our biases, acknowledge what we don’t know, and avoid distortion or otherwise lift things from context. We have to separate fact from opinion, and give credit where credit is due.

3. Consistency

We must also present a consistent level of quality. If we have cultivated a voice, that voice has to be there as resonant as ever. If we have adopted a position or a theme, our treatment of it has to build in a direction a reader has come to expect.

4. Delivery

Cronkite set the bar for eloquent, measured, and calm delivery—exactly what you’d want from a news anchor. Even in the most emotional of times, his voice held the ground and in this, his listeners felt safe, which is fertile territory for building trust. The anchorman cultivated an effective voice—a perfect fit for delivering the news—but any writer needs to do the same. Fiction or nonfiction, whatever our purpose or goal, we too have to consider our delivery. Our tone and voice must fit the work and be such that the reader is able to absorb our words.

5. Faith

If we want our readers’ trust, we can’t do anything halfway. If we’re bored, or our emotional life is a mess, or we are writing by rote—these things will show. If we have lost faith in the value of what we do, this too will show. A good writing day or a bad one, it comes down to caring—and doing. Perhaps we need to take a break. Perhaps we need a vacation. But nothing goes out until it’s as perfect as we can make it.

Comments welcome and edited to include first names only, and website, if provided; never your email. Photo of Walter Cronkite widely cited in reverse image search including at http://www.worldculturepictorial.com/blog/archive/all/2009/7/19; LBJ at Cam Ranh Bay in Vietnam, Life Magazine, November 4, 1966; General Westmoreland in the foreground, http://faculty.smu.edu/dsimon/Change-Viet2.html among other sources.

Close, but no Cigar?

Pete Best – recognize the name?

How about Ronald Wayne? Ring a bell?

I thought not.

But John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr—these are names you know. And Steve Jobs and Steve “Woz” Wozniak—you know them, too.

Put simply, these are people who remade the world, who divided time into before and after.

Pete Best, on the other hand, lost his chance at this kind of super brilliant productivity. He played only two years with the band—’60 through ’62—before he was fired and replaced by Ringo.  The closest history has put him, then, to the nexus of creative genius is as one of the “Fifth Beatles,” a phrase that has come to embrace a coterie of the people who shaped the early band. Volkswagon, in a clever ad campaign, has also claimed kinship.

And Ronald Wayne, for his part, was also close but missed the mark, forever. History has recorded him as the third founder of Apple computers formed on April Fool’s Day, 1976. Ronald Wayne left after less than two weeks, and the other two ushered in a new age.

What’s this have to do with you, a writer?

Some might read it as a cautionary tale: lose or leave your dream job, and you’ve missed your future—ouch!  Move over Fifth Beatle, third Apple: we have a new arrival on the bench, and his story is a doozy.

And yet, a more compassionate, more realistic reading of the situation  points up the familiar, for who hasn’t misjudged something critical?

Turn left instead of right? Blow it big time, open palm smacked to your forehead? What’s next? That’s the only question that matters. Everything else is something yet to happen or spilt milk. Call in the cat, and move on.

Comments welcome and edited to include first names only, and website, if provided; never your email. Photo credits: Beatle Cariolet 2010 by adamfinecars.com; apple by earthtimes.org