Why the Trusting News Project is Aiming to Better Understand Public Trust in Journalism

With President Trump’s continuous attacks on the media, and a number of news organizations struggling to stay financially afloat, a need to better understand the public’s perception of news and their willingness to pay for it has emerged.

As part of the most recent phase of the Reynolds Journalism Institute’s Trusting News project, 28 partner newsrooms asked their audiences about their views on the credibility of news through an online survey. Participating newsrooms included the Cincinnati Enquirer, Dallas Morning News, Minneapolis Star Tribune, Fresno (Calif.) Bee, Fort Worth Star-Telegram and the Ogden (Utah) Standard-Examiner. Results can be found at trustingnews.org.

Joy Mayer

“It’s important to remember that a lot of the public really don’t understand what we do. There are many people who think that journalists sit in a room and decide altogether what information to report and what information to suppress,” said Joy Mayer, project director. “They don’t trust us and that distrust is based in a lot of big misconceptions.”

In total, the questionnaires received 8,728 responses. Additionally, partner newsrooms conducted 81 in-depth interviews with readers for more details about what they are looking for in a trustworthy news organization.

“The most challenging aspect was that we did not expect to hear from so many of these consumers. It never occurred to me that thousands of people would respond to this questionnaire,” Mayer said. “The questionnaire was primarily designed to help these newsrooms find people to sit down with and interview in person.”

The online survey, which was conducted earlier this year and consisted of more than a dozen questions, yielded a number of insights into who trusts and pays for news, particularly when it comes to age, politics and race. While more than two-thirds of respondents noted that they financially support at least one news organization, white respondents were more likely to both trust and pay for news compared to non-white respondents. Although levels of trust in news remained relatively consistent regardless of age, the likelihood of paying for news was higher among older adults. Another component of the survey included an open ended question that asked respondents to name three sources of news they typically trust and vice versa.

The next phase of the project will involve newsrooms testing out strategies based off user data from the questionnaires and sit-down interviews. These strategies are designed to showcase the credibility and trustworthiness of journalism. Participating newsrooms will log the results and share what they find.

“I definitely have been hearing from a lot of newsrooms that are eager to act on all this information,” Mayer said. “This will be the next phase of this project—to develop and deliver strategies newsrooms can then test in their communities.”

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