Media & Entertainment

Local News Is (Still) The Most Trusted Source For U.S. Adults

It’s no secret that it’s tough to be in the news business these days. There’s the whole politically motivated trust issue. Ad revenue is being redirected to big tech companies who are putting the news media’s content on their sites — for free. And there are many choices for the news consumer in terms of when, where, what and how they consume news.

With the 2020 presidential election on the horizon, newsrooms are re-evaluating their strategies. According to a recent article from the International News Media Association (INMA), “The Digital Transformation of Newsrooms to be Readers First,” they are undergoing a massive cultural shift which sounds like good news for the news consumer. CivicScience has been tracking the trust in media issue since just before the November presidential election in 2016.

What’s most interesting is that when the study began in August 2016, complete lack of trust was at its highest point with well over half of the country being in the “I don’t trust any, they all seem biased” camp. Fast-forward to 2019 and the feeling of distrust has actually fallen by 22%. Of those who don’t trust any media, 53% are men.

Overall, from the more than 26,000 responses from U.S. adults, local TV news is the most trusted, followed closely by broadcast network news, then cable network news. Of those who choose local TV news, more than half are women and 76% are over the age of 35.

Coming in with the smallest percentage of responses are with those people who most trust posts on social media, which is no surprise given what took place with foreign interference in the 2016 presidential election with targeted fake news posts. Of those saying they most trust social media posts, 29% are new and younger voters between 18-24.

It’s also interesting to see how a person’s choice of which news source they find most unbiased affects how they see three important issues in our country right now. Take the economy and jobs. Those who are the most concerned about these issues are those who trust a national network newscast the most. Those who are least concerned about them are those who don’t trust any media at all. Folks that trust cable news networks also have less concern.

What about illegal immigration? Those who do not trust any news media to be unbiased have the most concern, followed by those who most trust cable news networks. To the contrary, those who most trust national newspapers are the least concerned.

Finally, consider the issue of climate change and the environment. Those who are the most concerned about the environment trust national newspapers and network broadcast news. Those who do not trust any news media are the least concerned, followed by those who most trust cable network news.

It’s telling that political persuasion is at the crux of the trust in media issue. You can make the determination of political leanings in these correlations. The data prove it out.

But there is one exception, where regardless of your political persuasion, trust is as close to equal as it gets. It is local TV news. To bring this full circle, learning from the inaccurate assumptions in the national media coverage of the 2016 presidential election, media is under even more pressure for the 2020 presidential election. The national network news media are recognizing the urgency to restore trust in media and to not miss the real story. Their most obvious path is through the most trusted news media in America, local TV news stations, which are also their own network affiliates and plan to incorporate their grassroots reporting into their networks’ national coverage. CivicScience will continue to track the trust or lack thereof and report if the strategies being discussed and implemented to restore that trust will begin to show results.

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