Historically, America has prided itself on a free press, where journalists have the agency to speak their opinions without fear of governmental oversight or crackdown. This freedom of speech has, over the years, birthed countless news sources, each with the goal of delivering the news thoroughly, accurately, and without bias.
In a CivicScience study of over 200,000 Americans 13 and older, 46% said they do not trust any news source to deliver unbiased news. Compared to when CivicScience last checked on trust in media, that number is fairly consistent, having risen just 1% from July of last year.
Trust in broadcast network news to deliver unbiased information has also held fairly stable since July 2019, while trust in local news has decreased from 17% to 15%. Clearly, broadcast channels have made an effort over the years to establish a loyal following – one that may have regained some trust in the neutrality of reports. However, local news does not appear to have had the same success.
Despite the fact that the general public largely find news sources to have a bias, they are watching the news anywhere from 1-5 hours a week. Viewership is largely skewed by age, with the youngest respondents watching the least and the oldest watching the most.
If the youngest aren’t tuning in for TV news, it’s likely they are turning to other channels to get information. For example, 10% of 13- to 24-year-olds trust digital only sites and social media to deliver unbiased news. And when it comes to breaking news, almost a third of Gen Z go first to their social channels.
Not All News Topics Are Treated Equally
Looking at some of the hottest topics in 2020, CivicScience data found that trust in certain news sources to deliver unbiased news fluctuates depending on how concerned someone feels about a particular issue.
For example, those most concerned about climate change and racial equity were most likely to use broadcast news networks as their trusted news source – and by a very wide margin.
At the same time taking the pulse of Americans’ concern over immigration, the data show opinions on biased news sources swing the other way. Compared to those who are very concerned about climate change and racial equity, distrust in the media to deliver unbiased news is much higher among those focused on immigration issues.
The data further supports the idea that trust in American news sources is fractionated, and that it changes significantly based on the issue that an individual cares about.
Trust Along Party Lines
This division of trust in news sources is seen especially clearly along political lines. While Conservatives largely believe all news sources are biased, they will tune into local TV and cable networks. Liberals, on the other hand, prefer broadcast news and national newspapers. Moderates share opinions of both – largely distrusting media outlets, but tuning into broadcast news and local news on occasion.
All of this to say that it’s not just the topics that play a role in which sources receive views, but the political affiliation as well.
While a large portion of the general population still feel that all news is biased, it is clear that broadcast news is holding onto the trust it’s created with viewers in recent years.
However, a general increase in trust in broadcast news doesn’t mean it’s worked for everyone. Depending on what issue is being reported and one’s political persuasion, Americans become skeptical as to whether or not they are getting all sides of a story.