The news media, like many other major U.S. institutions, has suffered from a decline in public confidence in recent years. A key question for the future of the news media, as well as for U.S. democracy, is whether that trust is lost for good. In a report from the Knight Foundation (“Indicators of News Media Trust“) part of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation’s Trust, Media and Democracy initiative, Gallup asked a representative sample of U.S. adults to discuss key factors that make them trust, or not trust, news media organizations.
The report relies on a variety of research approaches — open-ended questions, closed- ended importance ratings and an experiment — and finds:
- Most U.S. adults, including more than nine in 10 Republicans, say they personally have lost trust in the news media in recent years. At the same time, 69% of those who have lost trust say that trust can be restored.
- Asked to describe in their own words why they trust or do not trust certain news organizations, Americans’ responses largely center on matters of accuracy or bias. Relatively few mentioned a news organization’s partisan or ideological leaning as a factor.
- Accuracy and bias also rank among the most important factors when respondents rate how important each of 35 potential indicators of media trust are to them. Transparency also emerges as an important factor in the closed-ended ratings of factors that influence trust: 71% say a commitment to transparency is very important, and similar percentages say the same about an organization providing fact-checking resources and providing links to research and facts that back up its reporting.
- An experimental approach not only showed the importance of accuracy, bias and transparency, but also revealed a complex relationship between partisanship and media trust. Both Republicans and Democrats were less likely to trust news sources with a partisan reputation that opposes their own. However, they did not express much greater trust in news sources that have a reputation for a partisan leaning consistent with their own.
These results indicate that attempts to restore trust in the media among most Americans may be fruitful, particularly if those efforts are aimed at improving accuracy, enhancing transparency and reducing bias. The results also indicate that reputations for partisan leaning are a crucial driver of media distrust, and one that may matter more for people themselves than they realize.
Gallup and Knight Foundation acknowledge support for this research from the Ford Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Open Society Foundations.
Sources: website Knight Foundation, Columbia Journalism Review (“Most Americans say they have lost trust in the media“),