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Trust in the News by Users in the Netherlands

The next speaker in this session at Future of Journalism 2017 is Irene Costera Meijer, whose team conducted 72 interviews with news users in the Netherlands to elicit their views on truth and trust in the news. Truth in journalism is perceived as one of the cornerstones of news quality, but this does not mean that such values are conditions either for the production or the consumption of news – and journalists and news users tend to point to each other as responsible for the decrease in the quality of the news and the resulting news scepticism.

How do such perceptions matter in everyday news use and engagement, then? Do they matter more in some circumstances or news genres than in others? Do sociodemographic factors matter here?

First, trust emerged as the most important value: if news is not trustworthy, it was seen merely as entertainment. Second, editorial independence was also highly valued; users preferred editorial rather than algorithmic selection, and disliked the narrow shaping of the news for particular target groups as this may also signal biased selections. Third, 'fake news' was raised as a topic of discussion, but was of no immediate concern in the Dutch context. Fourth, the manipulability of images emerged as a notable specific topic, and users were concerned about the possibilities to mislead in this context.

Key factors in recognising trustworthiness were professionality, including proper verification processes, clear layout and presentation, hyperlinks pointing to additional primary sources; the established reputation of outlets; and the reliability that stems from long-term familiarity with an outlet; the multiperspectivality of coverage; and the provision of illustrative imagery. Untrustworthiness was recognised in outlets using sensationalism, scare tactics, and screaming headlines; that made mistakes that are easily recognised by audiences with advanced topical knowledge; that published only in digital formats; that target specific groups with their news; and by audiences that employed news scepticism as a general attitude.

Trust is organised in users' verification strategies and habits; complextity and variety; eyewitness sourcing; and a number of other processes. In this, age makes a difference: younger audiences seek out and verify the truth more actively, rather than relying on the established esteem of news outlets. News brands are thus becoming less important as points of orientation than as points of navigation; the same is true for news platforms like Twitter, which is crucial in times of crisis but whose information is subsequently verified by exploring other sources. News genres are also an important point of distinction: such effort is not expended in the same way on 'soft', entertainment news as it is on 'hard', political news, for example.