Do you trust the news you read? And is it only mistrust that makes you not read what you don’t read? Historically, the biggest selling point of journalists has always been their “credibility”. We often come across the word trust even in the slogans of newspapers. While it is well known that advertising signs cannot be trusted, it is clear that trust is an important value, especially when it comes to life-changing information. But what do readers trust and why?
The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism’s comprehensive report “Strategies for Building Trust in News” focuses on the complex relationship between news organisations, journalists and the public. The study, conducted in Brazil, India, the United Kingdom and the United States, aims to understand public perceptions of the news media, the role of journalism in society and strategies for building trust in news.
Controlling the person in power builds trust
One of the prominent findings of the report is the importance of the watchdog function of journalism. According to the report, the majority of respondents in the four countries stated that it is important for news organisations to monitor and supervise people in power. This function of the press is recognised as a fundamental role of journalism and is considered “somewhat” or “very important” by a significant proportion of the public.
However, the study also reveals that the public has a complex perspective. Respondents expressed a desire for news organisations to pay more attention to ordinary people and everyday issues, while at the same time valuing the media’s role in policing those in power. This suggests that viewers are looking for a balanced news presentation that focusses mainly on important issues, rather than trivial forms of scrutiny.
The research also includes an assessment of the roles of journalism in different countries. Brazilians prioritised news organisations helping people understand what is happening in the world or in their communities, while Indians emphasised a focus on finding solutions to everyday problems. The British and Americans, on the other hand, expressed concern about accuracy and felt that news organisations should improve accuracy as a priority.
Purposeful publishing brings trust and satisfaction
The report also highlights the link between the performance of news organisations and public trust in the news. Respondents who believed that news organisations were performing their functions well tended to trust the information presented by the media more. This relationship was particularly pronounced in the United Kingdom and the United States, showing that perceptions of editorial performance have a strong influence on news credibility.
However, the report also recognises that regaining public trust is a complex task with no single solution. The report also emphasises the need for further research to explore the key issues here and to develop effective strategies to build trust in news.
The issue of trust with statistics
We can get a basic idea of how trust processes work in different democracies and media environments by looking at some of the highlights of the report.
When asked how personally interested they are in interacting with news organisations, 69% in India, 68% in the UK and 71% in the US said they were interested in news organisations. This is important as it shows that there is a lively interest in news.
When asked whether news organisations in their country have mostly commercial or political interests in news presentation, 46% in Brazil, 45% in India, 38% in the UK, and 31% in the US said that they think news organisations have mostly political interests.
In terms of the trustworthiness of news organisations, 47% in Brazil, 33% in India, 12% in the UK and 9% in the US said they trusted news organisations. There is a huge disproportion between the interest shown and trust. News is treated like a can of fizzy drink that we drink even if we don’t like it.
When asked how well news organisations generally do in presenting the news, as low as 30% in Brazil, 25% in India, 36% in the UK and 13% in the US think news organisations do a good job. While it may seem surprising that expectations are high and evaluations low in sectors that are seen as professional and idealised, this may also be a reaction to the erosion of a long-standing journalistic culture.
When asked which problems news organisations should solve as a priority, 20% in Brazil, 20% in India, 21% in the UK and 26% in the USA, people most want news organisations to solve the problem of accuracy. Although it is not right to look for the solution to this problem only in news organisations, the fight against misinformation as a selling point is still functional.
These data show that people in different countries have different views on issues such as news media credibility, commercial/political interests and problems in news presentation.
What does the report recommend?
So what do the authors of the report recommend to journalists as a result of their research?
News organisations need to focus more on the issues and people expected from credible news sources, and to take a solution-oriented or constructive approach to news stories.
News organisations should communicate their ethical standards and newsroom policies to readers and make efforts to reduce conflicts of interest and bias.
News organisations need to improve journalistic independence and ownership structures that raise public suspicion, and increase diversity among newsroom staff.
News organisations need to involve the public in news production, respond to their feedback and communicate directly.
We can say that the recommendations and findings of this report contain some lessons for news organisations and journalists.
The report emphasises the importance of fulfilling journalism’s watchdog role while addressing the specific needs and expectations of different target audiences. As the report emphasises, building trust requires transparency, accuracy and deeper engagement with the public.
News organisations must strive to align their editorial content with the issues that matter most to the public and build meaningful relationships with their audiences. As the media landscape continues to evolve, understanding these factors is critical for news organisations to regain and maintain public trust.