Apr 222016

trust-headerYou already know that Americans have little confidence in what they see, hear or read in the news media. Last year, according to Gallup, trust in media set a new low with just 7% saying they have a great deal of confidence in the news. What’s to be done?

A new study offers some clues. The Media Insight Project asked people why they rely on certain sources of news and information as opposed to others. The results show that consumers make decisions based on specific factors, and those factors vary depending on the topic and the platform.

The number one reason given for trusting a news source is accuracy, with 85% saying it matters most. Having the latest details was cited by 76%, and being concise was valued by 72%.

The study found that people who follow different types of news value different factors. Political junkies trust news sources that emphasize experts and data (79%). Consumers of lifestyle news say they want their news source to be entertaining (53%). People are much more likely to want their source to be concise and get to the point for national politics (80%) than sports (61%).

And platform matters when it comes to trust in news. Just 12% of Facebook news consumers have a lot of trust in the news they see there. LinkedIn ranks highest among social media, with 23% saying they trust news they encounter there.

Digital news consumers decide whether to rely on a specific news source based on additional factors, mostly having to do with presentation. Load time matters a lot to 63% of consumers, as does not having ads interfere with the news. For 60% of consumers, having content that works well on mobile phones is important.

It should be obvious that news organizations and journalists want and need the public’s trust. If a news source isn’t trusted, why would anyone turn to it (supermarket tabloids aside)? So credibility is often tied to the bottom line: a trusted news organization is more likely to enjoy economic success. The study offers this confirmation:

While most people report all of the trust‑related factors are important, some people place a higher value on them than others. And those news consumers especially concerned with trustworthiness are also the most likely to report that they take valuable actions — such as paying for news, spreading news to friends, and following the source on social platforms.

One more thing:

About 4 in 10 Americans (38 percent) can recall a specific recent incident that caused them to lose trust in a news source. The two most common problems were either instances of perceived bias or inaccuracies.

That may not seem like a big deal, but consider this: participants in focus groups said that a bad experience with a news source left them feeling like they had been personally wronged, taken advantage of, or fooled. Earning trust is difficult enough. Rebuilding it once it’s lost is even harder, something all journalists and news managers would do well to bear in mind.

A version of this post was previously published at Advancing the Story.


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