You are here

Understanding Trust in Journalistic Media

The last day at AoIR 2017 starts with Marita Lüders, who begin by highlighting the crucial role of the news media in democracy, and also of citizen trust in the news media as a requirement for the media to exercise that crucial role. But such trust has declined, while citizen choices of older and newer news media have multiplied, with a growth especially in lower-credibility news channels.

So what are the components of trust in the news media? This paper utilises a model that examines trust in organisations, which has not yet been applied to news organisations; it sees trust as the willingness of the trustor to be vulnerable to the actions of the trustee. This trust is seen as an outcome of rational, cognitive processes which are however also related to the affective and social processes. Political preferences are important as factors for trust in specific news media, for example.

News media in hyper-complex modern societies are required to be unbiased intermediaries between the institutions of power and the citizenship, yet this is difficult against the background of the crisis in journalism, especially with the disruptions brought by various new media forms and players in high-choice environments.

In journalism and communication studies, trust is measured in a number of ways. Some key definitions of trust here are trust in the fairness of journalistic reporting; trust as defined intuitively by audiences themselves; or trust as a multidimensional property (including perceptions of an appropriate selection of topics, selection of facts, accuracy of depictions, journalistic assessment).

In organisational trust, factors of perceived trustworthiness might include perceptions of ability (journalistic skills and expertise); benevolence (intending to do good for society rather than just for the company); and integrity (adherence to an acceptable sense of professional principles).

Such perceptions may then also be different across new media users: individual differences include the propensity or disposition to trust others, and this could be related to age, gender, and other sociodemocraphic factors; political differences, such as the positioning of the individual on a left-to-right political spectrum; and social network positioning, including the social capital that users may mobilise in support of social cooperation, but also participation in specific communities, such as Facebook groups that are sceptical of specific news media.

There is now a need to operationalise this framework, and to test these drivers of trust or mistrust.