Digital Publishing
3 mins read

A question of trust: Traditional media scores high. Social, not so much.

The bad news first.

Most American say they have lost trust in the news media in recent years.

The Knight Foundation and Gallup just shared their latest research on “Indicators of news media trust”.

Gallup asked a representative sample of U.S. adults to discuss key factors that make them trust, or not trust, news media organizations. Its findings:

The news media, like many other major U.S. institutions, has suffered from a decline in public confidence in recent years. 

The majority of U.S. adults say that in recent years they have personally lost trust in the media.

“Consistent with the trend toward declining trust, 69% of U.S. adults in the current survey say their trust in the news media has decreased in the past decade,” the report states. “Just 4% say their trust has increased, while 26% indicate their trust has not changed.”

While that paints a pretty bleak picture, digging a little deeper, based on other contemporary research findings, shows that trust indicators vary wildly depending on the medium.

Traditional American newspapers are currently enjoying a very high level of trust, based on an analysis of 15 major daily newspapers as part of the Media Trust Tracker, a collaboration of Brand Keys and MediaPost’s Research Intelligencer, which measures how much a user’s trust contributes to their engagement with the brand.

The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal tied at No. 1 with a trust contribution of 88%, followed closely by The Washington Post, trailing just a percentage point behind.

Interestingly, the contribution of trust among the major daily newspapers was relatively high,” says Robert Passikoff, founder of Brand Keys, “with a narrow margin of difference (between 80% and 88%), vs. an analysis we published in July of the major television news brands (which ranged 58% to 90%).”

The picture dramatically changes when the focus shifts to getting news on social media.

According to a new Pew Research Center survey, while two-thirds of American adults say they get news on social media, a majority (57%) say they expect the news they see on social media to be largely inaccurate.

Apparently, in spite of low trust, people continue to get news via social simply because it’s convenient.

Asked what they like about the news experience on social media, more Americans mention ease of use than content. “Convenience” is by far the most commonly mentioned benefit.

This is consistent with the low trust in news from social media seen in past surveys. Only about four-in-ten (42%) expect the news they see on social media to be largely accurate.

“Not only do social media news consumers expect the news they see there to be inaccurate, but inaccuracy is the top concern they bring up about information on social media,” say Elisa Shearer and Katerina Eva Matsa from the Pew Research Center.

“When asked an open-ended question about what they dislike most about getting news on social media, concerns about inaccuracy top the list, outstripping concerns about political bias.”

The good news is that, while most U.S. adults say they personally have lost trust in the news media in recent years, 69% of those who have lost trust say that trust can be restored.

“These results indicate that attempts to restore trust in the media among most Americans may be fruitful,” according to the Gallup/Knight Foundation research findings, “particularly if those efforts are aimed at improving accuracy, enhancing transparency and reducing bias.”

The Indicators of news media trust survey delves deeper into key questions for the future of the news media, as well as for U.S. democracy, and how trust can be restored.

Click here to download a copy of the Knight Foundation and Gallup survey report.

The report is a part of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation’s Trust, Media and Democracy initiative, with research support from the Ford Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Open Society Foundations.