How do audiences decide what news to trust? Fairness and accuracy aren’t the only things that matter

By | April 24, 2021

Benjamin Toff, Sumitra Badrinathan, Camila Mont’Alverne, and Amy Ross Arguedas write:

What do people really mean when they say they do not trust the news media? And what can news organizations do to restore trust where it is deserved?

This week, our team of researchers at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism published a new report that offers somewhat different answers than those most often focused on by journalists and other researchers (much of which we reviewed in a Trust in News Project (funded with a £3.3 million grant from the Facebook Journalism Project), a multi-year effort to better understand trust in news media, which has steadily eroded in many countries worldwide. Building on our last report and in advance of additional data collection, our team of researchers wanted to step back and listen to how people in different political environments understood the concept of trust, thought about news, and made decisions around their own media habits — including the increasingly central role played by digital platforms like Facebook and WhatsApp. In an effort to better capture these perspectives, over the past few months, we held a series of open-ended online conversations with 132 people in four countries — Brazil, India, the U.K., and the U.S.

This qualitative data allowed us to better understand not only the context around how people form attitudes toward news media, but also why they take the positions they do and what kinds of characteristics are most salient when they consider the concept of trust. We highlight three of our main findings here.

First, in all four countries, we found that the line between more trusting and less trusting individuals was often blurry, even though we specifically screened participants on this basis.

People in both groups held complex and nuanced views about the variety of news sources available to them. In other words, trust in news is not a single concept but a mix of attitudes. Arguably, the more important dividing line was often between people who differentiated between news sources (trusting some but distrusting others), which helped them navigate an otherwise confusing media landscape, and those who were largely unsure about which news sources to trust (and often skeptical toward all of them as a result). [Continue reading…]

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