The FINANCIAL -- WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The decline over the past decade in trust in the news media has been well-documented. The news media is arguably the most important institution for keeping citizens informed in a democracy. A new report, part of the Knight Foundation's Trust, Media and Democracy Initiative, relied on a variety of research approaches to assess why people trust or distrust media, and how trust might be restored.
The research, using open-ended questions, closed-ended importance ratings and an experiment asking participants to choose between competing news organization profiles, finds:
Most U.S. adults, including more than nine in 10 Republicans, say they have lost trust in the news media in recent years. At the same time, 69% of those who have lost trust say that trust can be restored.
Asked to describe in their own words why they trust or do not trust certain news organizations, Americans' responses largely center on matters of accuracy or bias. Relatively few mention a news organization's partisan or ideological leaning as a factor.
Accuracy and bias also rank among the most important factors when respondents rate the importance of each of 35 potential indicators of media trust.
Transparency also emerges as an important factor in the closed-ended ratings of factors that influence trust: 71% say a commitment to transparency is very important, and similar percentages say the same about an organization providing fact-checking resources, as well as providing links to research and facts that back up its reporting.
An experimental approach not only reinforced the importance of accuracy, bias and transparency, but also revealed a complex relationship between partisanship and media trust. Both Republicans and Democrats were less likely to trust news sources with a partisan reputation that opposes their own.
However, they did not express much greater trust in news sources that have a reputation for a partisan leaning consistent with their own.