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Understanding the dimensions of trust in the news media

March 7, 2023 | By Rande Price, Research VP – DCN

Accuracy and transparency are vital elements of quality journalism that both play into another critical component: trust. Therefore, understanding consumer trust (or lack of it) is essential in today’s news media business. A new report, American Views 2022: Part 2, from Gallup and the Knight Foundation, examines the emotional dimensions of trust and how they relate to how people feel about news organizations. Further, the research provides insight into emotional triggers in today’s media environment providing a deeper understanding of consumer sentiment.

Using six questions designed by Gallup and Knight, the research measures five dimensions of consumer trust ‒ competency, reliability, benevolence (societal and individual), and integrity. Analytics then determine respondent segments from low to high levels of emotional trust. The spectrum of emotional trust offers important subtext to topline findings. For example, 61% of respondents find it harder to be well-informed because of the overwhelming number of information sources. Among consumers with low emotional trust in national news, this percentage jumps to 76%.

In contrast, the percentage remains at 60% among those with high emotional trust. The sharp increase among those with low emotional trust shows that this setting triggers low confidence and frustration in navigating a complex media news ecosystem. Notably, the emotional trigger is external and not related to the news organizations’ reporting competency.

Trust in the news media

Gallup and Knight’s research finds consumer dissatisfaction with the news media at a record low of 26%. Older segments, Baby Boomers and the Silent Generation appear more favorable toward the news media (33% and 34% very or somewhat favorable, respectively) in comparison to less favorable younger cohorts ‒ Gen Z (58%), millennials (56%), and Gen X (55%).

The perception of political bias in news coverage is also driving low favorability. More than half of Americans (55%) say there is “a great deal” of political bias in news reporting compared to surveys results in 2019-early 2020 and 2017 (46%, and 45%, respectively).

However, despite the level of dissatisfaction, 72% of Americans agree (strongly agree/agree) that national news organizations have the resources and opportunity to report news accurately and fairly to the public.

News favorability

Unfavorable opinions of the news media correlate with low emotional trust in national news organizations. Slightly more than two-thirds (67%) of consumers with unfavorable opinions of the news media have low emotional trust. Among those with a favorable or very favorable view of the media, 56% have high emotional trust in national news organizations.

Interestingly, 44% of consumers report high emotional trust in local news organizations, compared to 21% who have high emotional trust in national news organizations. These findings are consistent across political parties; 31% of Republicans and 58% of Democrats trust local news organizations among those with high emotional trust in local news.  

Trust motivates consumers to pay for news

Slightly more than one-quarter of consumers (26%) report paying to access news or donating to a news organization. Applying the dimensions of emotional trust shows that those with higher emotional trust in the news are likelier to pay for it (35%) compared to 23% with low emotional trust.

Gallup and Knight’s research includes a nuanced approach to understanding and correlating consumer trust of the news media. Adding an understanding of the dimensions of trust provides richer context. It offers links to drivers of low emotional trust and favorability, such as information overload or fear of navigating the information ecosystem. National and local news organizations should identify these external triggers and discuss the issues and potential solutions with their audience.  

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