How to rebuild trust in media proves tricky

September 11, 2018

Figuring out just how to rebuild Americans’ trust in media is proving to be a tricky question.

The Knight Foundation and Gallup shared their latest findings on mixing the perfect potion, after previously testing whether articles featuring their sources or community-rated trust metrics would improve readers’ trust in media organizations.

Spoiler alerts: Nope and nope. (Disclosure: Knight has provided funding to Nieman Lab in the past.)

This time around, Knight/Gallup researchers did this thing where they just asked (and also tested) their survey respondents what helps increase or decrease their trust in news organizations.

In addition to deeper questions, respondents were able to select from 35 different factors for determining trust in organizations, such as “The type of media it uses — newspaper, TV news, radio or website” and “Its commitment to accuracy — not reporting stories before it verifies all the facts and being willing to correct mistakes it makes.”

Here’s the bad news first: The majority of U.S. adults say that in recent years they have personally lost trust in the media.

About a third of those who identify as being on the political right “have lost faith in the media and expect that change to be permanent.”

Good news: 69 percent of all those who say they’ve lost trust believe that it can still be restored.

The most important factors are accuracy and minimized bias; 71 percent also said a news organization’s commitment to transparency is very important (bonus points if the organization provides “fact-checking resources and providing links to research and facts that back up its reporting”).

“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 researchers write. “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.”

But the researchers also acknowledge that centering on a common definition will be difficult: “A major challenge in fostering trust in the news media is that accuracy and unbiasedness are often in the eye of the beholder.”

To read the full report, click here.