What we think we know and what we want to know: perspectives on trust in news in a changing world

Report by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism: “…Trust in news has eroded worldwide. According to the Reuters Institute’s Digital News Report 2020, fewer than four in ten people (38%) across 40 markets say they typically trust most news (Newman et al. 2020). While trust has fallen by double digit margins in recent years in many places, including Brazil and the United Kingdom (Fletcher 2020), in other countries more stable overall trends conceal stark and growing partisan divides (see, for example, Jurkowitz et al. 2020).

Why is trust eroding, how does it play out across different contexts and different groups, what are the implications, and what might be done about it? These are the organising questions behind the Trust in News Project. This report is the first of many we will publish from the project over the next three years. Because trust is a relationship between trustors and trustees, we anticipate focusing primarily on audiences and the way they think about trust, but we begin the project by taking stock of how those who study journalism and those who practice it think about the subject. We want to be informed by their experiences and for our research to engage with how professional journalists and the news media approach trust so that it can be more useful in their work. Combining an extensive review of existing research on trust in news (including nearly 200 interdisciplinary publications) and original interviews on the subject (including 82 with journalists and other practitioners across several countries), we summarise some of what is known and unknown about trust, what is contributing to these trends, and how media organisations are seeking to address them in increasingly competitive digital environments.

Trust is not an abstract concern but part of the social foundations of journalism as a profession, news as an institution, and the media as a business. It is both important and dangerous, both for the public and for the news media – important for the public because being able to trust news helps people navigate and engage with the world, but dangerous because not everything is equally trustworthy; and important for the news media because the profession relies on it, but dangerous because it can be elusive and hard to regain when lost.

So if ‘trust is the new currency for success’, as the World Association of News Media has stated (Tjaardstra 2017), then how is it earned and what can this currency buy? For those who want to regain or retain it, it is not enough to do things that merely look good or feel good. Those things actually have to work or they risk making no difference, or worse, being counter-productive. Even when they do work, many of the choices involved in seeking to increase trust in accurate and reliable news may come with trade-offs. Our aim in the project is to gather actionable evidence to help journalists and news media make informed decisions about how best to address concerns around eroding trust….(More)”.