Consumer trust in news is a complex and dynamic relationship that varies across countries, platforms, and audiences. Different audiences have different reasons to trust or distrust news organizations. However, misrepresentation and underrepresentation are two common drivers of distrust in news reporting.
Reuters Institute’s new report, News for the Powerful and Privileged: How Misrepresentation and Underrepresentation of Disadvantaged Communities Undermine Their Trust in News, examines this problem. The report is part of the Trust in News Project, which explores the factors that drives trust for audiences in different contexts. The research identifies evidence-based recommendations for publishers and platforms. Reuters conducted 41 focus groups among 322 participants from Brazil, India, the UK, and the U.S. from several marginalized groups.
The respondents include:
- Black and mixed-race audiences (people who identified as either preto or pardo) in Brazil
- Marginalized castes or tribes and Muslim audiences in India
- Working-class audiences in the U.K.
- Black and rural audiences in the U.S.
The findings show that many respondents have doubts about the motives of news organizations. Many attribute their distrust to what they see as chronic bias in reporting: coverage that reinforces stereotypes and sensationalized news items.
Respondents feel that the news media does not reflect their realities or interests but serves the agendas of those in power. The research finds that most participants see the news media as biased and depressing. They feel the news media often treats them unfairly, perpetuates stereotypes, fails to cover them, or promotes divisiveness among groups.
Respondents have different expectations and requirements from news media depending on their backgrounds and experiences. They cite examples of the news media’s misrepresentation in story selection and story framing.
– Emphasizing negative news
– Unfairly treating groups
– Perpetuating stereotypes
– Failing to cover them altogether
– Promoting divisiveness between groups
As one respondent states, “Black and brown people are not just the focus of tragedies; there are successful people among us.”
Many Black participants in the U.S. and Brazil note that most news coverage about Black people only emphasizes negative dimensions such as poverty, crimes, and violence. Further, respondents state that news coverage about high-profile cases of police brutality adds to the complexities and experiences of racism and discrimination in their day-to-day lives. One respondent comments:
“We always knew this was happening throughout history to the lynchings and the Civil Rights era. These things were always known, but seeing it broadcast every day, week after week, month after month, year after year, it’s mentally and emotionally exhausting, and I just couldn’t keep up with it.”
Research participants want news coverage inclusive of more positive and constructive news stories. They request that news stories be diverse and offer representation, transparency, and accountability. They would also like coverage to offer personal and social relevance.
The report suggests that the news media must address these concerns to rebuild trust and engagement with disadvantaged communities. Recommendations for news media professionals:
- Invest in more diverse and inclusive newsrooms and sources
- Provide more contextual and explanatory journalism
- Avoid sensationalism and negativity bias
- Seek feedback and dialogue with audiences
- Collaborate with community media and civil society organizations
Reuters Institute acknowledges the challenges and trade-offs the news media faces in serving different public segments. It argues that there is no single trust problem or solution but rather a need for more nuanced and tailored approaches that recognize the diversity and complexity of audiences.