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Networks of Trust and Distrust between Political Stakeholders

The next speaker at Future of Journalism 2017 is Susanne Almgren, whose focus is on expressions by citizens in news media conversations. Trust (and mistrust) matters especially much here: there is currently increased mistrust between news media and citizens: citizens expect media to provide spaces for national political debate, but such common ground between politics, media, and citizens is now often seen as dissolving.

Participatory features offered by news outlets, such as comments sections, offer an opportunity to study how citizens express trust or distrust. How do they depict various political actors, and describe how they relate to them? Susanne focussed especially on a selection of Swedish news articles with a particularly substantive number of comments.

Actors being discussed by citizens here include media as content producers; politicians in power and opposition; public officials; corporate entities; civic groups; and others. In one configuration, citizens see politicians, public officials, and corporate interests colluding against the interests of the public, and praise the media for shining a light on such connections; in another, citizens express a general distrust in politicians, but also position groups of users as being in conflict with one another; in a third, politicians and public officials are positioned as wasting taxpayers' money, and the media are placed implicitly in a role of adding transparency to combat such misuse.

Distrust towards the media is not as strong here as it might have been expected to be, therefore: distrust is first and foremost towards other groups, including politicians and corporates. Is the level of public distrust for the media overstated, therefore, and does it obscure other aspects? Are other forms of intra- and intergroup distrust more important, actually?