Do Americans Trust the News Media?

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There was a time in the not-that-distant past when television network news anchors were revered as honest purveyors of news. Many newspapers also shared in that honor, as did some magazines.

As the relative handful of trusted news sources swelled to thousands with the widespread adoption of cable TV and the internet, trust is a commodity that may have become more a statement of political belief than anything else.

The Reynolds Journalism Institute (RJI) at the University of Missouri collected data from an online survey available to users of the digital media platforms of 28 different newsrooms across the country. These included Annenberg Media, Ball State Daily News, Casper Star-Tribune, Cincinnati Enquirer, Coloradoan, Columbia Missourian, Dallas Morning News, Denver Post, Evergrey, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Fresno Bee, Jacksboro Herald-Gazette, Kansas City Star, KUT, Lima News, Minneapolis Star Tribune, NBC, Ogden Standard-Examiner, Rains County Leader, San Angelo Standard-Times, Skagit Publishing, Springfield News-Leader, St. Louis Magazine, St. Louis Public Radio, Steamboat Pilot & Today, USA TODAY, WCPO and WDET.

Of the 8,728 responses, 81 respondents were interviewed in depth in the newsrooms of these publications. Female respondents accounted for 51.3% of the total and most respondents (85.6%) were white. On an ideology scale of 1 (very conservative) to 5 (very liberal), the respondents skewed slightly more liberal (a standard deviation of 1.03).

More than two-thirds of those sampled (67.3%) reported being “likely” (34.8%) or “very likely” (32.5%) to believe mainstream journalism organizations while 32.7% or respondents reported being “unlikely” (17.3%) or “very unlikely” (15.3%).

According to the RJI report, researchers found three notable findings based on two models, one very conservative and one very liberal:

First, there was a relatively large difference between users with different political ideologies. Specifically, liberal respondents were a lot more trusting and supporting than conservative respondents. Given the rhetoric used in the most recent general election, however, this result may not be entirely surprising. Second, compared to non-white respondents, white respondents were more likely to believe information coming from news media and more likely to provide financial support to news organizations. The difference between white and non-white respondents was especially high in the context of trust in news media.

The report includes the following chart of the most, and least, trusted new sources:

Source: Reynolds Journalism Institute/University of Missouri

Visit the RJI website for more detailed methodology and more charts and results.