Trust in News Project
Why is trust in news declining in many countries? And what can be done about?
From 2020-2023, I led a collaborative research project with a team at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism examining what news sources people trust, why people invest their trust in them, and what publishers and platforms can do to help people make decisions about what news to trust online. We focused specifically on the media environments in Brazil, India, the UK, and the US.
The project was funded by a £3.3m donation ($4m) from the Facebook Journalism Project, announced in early 2020.
This report summarises some of what is known and unknown about trust in news, what is contributing to changing attitudes about news worldwide, and how media organisations are responding to increased digital competition. The report combines an extensive review of existing research on the subject along with findings from 82 in-depth interviews with journalists and other practitioners across Brazil, India, the United Kingdom, and the United States – four countries with varying media and political systems. The report argues that there is no single ‘trust in news’ problem but rather multiple challenges involving both the supply of news and the public’s demand for information. Empirical evidence about what works, with whom, and under what circumstances, remains lacking, especially around the role played by platform companies. The report emphasises the need to grapple with trade-offs. Some efforts to regain or retain trust in accurate and reliable news are likely to alienate some audiences over others.
This report details findings from an inductive, qualitative study of news audiences across four countries, examining varying ways people define the construct of trust in news, how they differentiate between sources, and the role played by digital platforms in how news outlets get evaluated in daily life. Drawing on both focus group discussions and one-on-one in-depth interviews with 132 individuals in Brazil, India, the United Kingdom, and the United States, the report argues that many people focus surprisingly little on the specific journalistic practices employed by news organisations when assessing trustworthiness. Instead, many news consumers fall back on shortcuts involving impressions of brands’ reputations and stylistic differences in the way news gets presented. For those lacking strong trusting relationships to particular news outlets, the experience of navigating information online often reinforced tendencies toward generalised scepticism toward all news—making it that much more challenging for news organizations to build trust with digital audiences.
This report details findings from an original survey of news audiences in Brazil, India, the United Kingdom, and the United States. It examines attitudes towards media in each country, ideas about how journalists conduct themselves, and views about which sources of information can be trusted online and offline. The report focuses especially on people with minimal trust and finds some patterns across countries: the least trusting are not necessarily the most vocal critics who are often selectively trusting towards particular providers. Instead, the untrusting tend to be the least knowledgeable about journalism, most disengaged from how it is practised, and least interested in the editorial choices publishers make daily when producing the news. The primary challenge news media and journalists face from this part of the public is not hostility, but indifference. Earning their trust calls for a different approach than that required for other segments of the public.