Public trust in the media is on the rise: Brendan Nyhan co-authors new survey from The Poynter Institute

August 24, 2018

By The Poynter Institute

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla., Aug. 22, 2018 /PRNewswire/ -- There's good news for journalists: three-quarters of Americans trust their local TV news and local newspapers. Trust is also on the rise for all types of news, despite increased attacks on the credibility of the American press by President Donald Trump and others.

These findings come from The Poynter Institute's second Media Trust Survey, released today. The research found 54 percent of Americans have "a great deal" or "a fair amount" of trust and confidence in the media, a five-point increase from Poynter's first Media Trust Survey published in December 2017.

Other key findings include:

  • 76% of Americans trust local television news
  • 73% trust local newspapers
  • 59% trust national newspapers
  • 55% trust national network news
  • 47% trust online-only news outlets

One reason trust in local news is significantly higher than in other news outlets is because Americans across the political spectrum trust it. According to the study's authors — Jason Reifler of University of Exeter, Brendan Nyhan of the University of Michigan and Andrew Guess of Princeton University — this pattern is driven by Republicans and independents who are otherwise more distrustful of the media than Democrats:

  • 23% of Republicans trust news media overall, up four points since 2017
  • 71% of Republicans trust local TV news
  • 62% of Republicans trust local newspapers
  • 86% of Democrats trust news media overall, up 12 points since 2017
  • 88% of Democrats trust local TV news
  • 88% of Democrats trust local newspapers

The divide in attitudes toward local versus national news is especially pronounced among Republicans. There is a 43-point difference between Republicans' trust in local and national TV news and a 33-point difference between their trust in local and national newspapers.

"Local journalism connects with people where they live and in ways that are relevant to their daily lives," Poynter President Neil Brown said. "Trust comes when there is a relationship, and for lots of people, even those with great interest in national affairs, the more personal relationship is with their local news source."

In December, Poynter's most heralded finding was that 44 percent of Americans believe news media frequently makes up stories about Trump. Eight months later, it's down slightly to 42 percent, though the 2018 question asked about fabricating stories in general.

When asked about whether the government should have the power to remove broadcast licenses from news organizations it says publishes fabricated stories, only 36 percent of Trump supporters upheld these ideas. Last year, 42 percent of Trump supporters thought the government should be able to stop a news media outlet from publishing a story that government officials say is biased or inaccurate.

"It's clear American citizens want to trust their news providers. But they need to feel as if the journalists reporting the news know them and understand them," said Poynter Senior Vice President Kelly McBride. "This is a big opportunity for news leaders to reach out to their audience. Be transparent about what you're doing and why, how you make decisions. Overcommunicate to the audience, invite them into your process. It goes a long way toward building trust."

Poynter's second annual Media Trust Survey interviewed a national sample of 2,000 Americans in July 2018. It was conducted by YouGov, a global public opinion and polling company, and funded by The Poynter Institute and Craig Newmark Philanthropies.