News & Opinion

Brits over 2x as likely to trust news media over social media to separate fact from fiction

The sixth annual Digital News Report, from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, shows that 41% of UK respondents agree that news media does a good job at separating fact from fiction, compared to 18% who think the same for social media.

With the growth of fake news and resulting struggle to decipher the truth from the fabricated, the report, which is based on a survey of 70,000 people in 36 markets, shows that people are more dependent on news media than social to supply them with validated information. According to lead author Nic Newman : "Fake news could be the best thing that has happened to journalism in a long while. It's an opportunity to re-establish the value of mainstream brands and focus on quality."

Presenting the findings at a breakfast event on 28 June, Newman pointed out that the report is based on a survey of digital users and so underrepresents “traditional” channels such as print and broadcast TV.

Overall, the report says that the UK's trust in news media is down 7 percentage points from last year (50% to 43%), stating that "much of this may be related to the use of social media where only 18% say that social media can be trusted to separate fact from fiction, compared with 41% for news brands". The roles of a "bruising and polarising Brexit campaign" and an increasingly polarised political landscape are also identified as sources of the decline in trust.

However, another recently released Reuters report based on a smaller global survey, found that "83% trust well-known news brands and always check the accuracy of shared news from other sources (up 6% on 2016)".

This indicates the difficulties in conclusively measuring general levels of trust. As Newsworks' insight director, Denise Turner, recently pointed out in a piece for Mediatel: "Trust is a really hard metric to measure, partly because everyone has different opinions about what it means".

She goes on to explain that understanding the nature of trust rests on taking account of "the relationship people have with the individual station, publication and programme... [and] what you trust people, media, and institutions for." The value of this relationship is reflected by the fact that 51% of UK respondents of the Digital News Report said they trust news sources that they use, as opposed to news media overall. 

Other findings from the Reuters Digital News Report include:

  • A stall in ad blocking growth on desktop (21% globally), while use of ad blockers remain low on smartphones (7% globally). In the UK, the report states that 22% are currently using an ad blocker, putting it at the lower end of the spectrum. Researchers found that 43% of all survey respondents (globally) agreed to temporarily turn off their ad blocker for particular news sites. 58% who whitelisted a site said they did so to be able to see the news content, while 26% responded to messages from publishers about the need for advertising revenue
  • Speculation that use of news apps may be making a comeback, based on a jump in the use of news apps in almost all countries. The report puts this down to two reasons - more publishers enabling deep linking to apps from search, social and email, as well as a substantial increase in mobile notifications as publishers pursue loyalty strategies. In the UK, news app usage has increased form 23% in 2016 to 27% in 2017
  • In the UK, the political leaning of readers marries up with pre-conceived notions of a title's political views. For example, the Guardian has a more left-leaning audience, while The Times' readership is on the right-hand side of centre, followed by MailOnline. This ties in with a point made by The Independent's Joe Watt's at Newsworks' post-election event about newspapers' influence over voters: "People gravitate towards news they agree with anyway. It's about shaping that opinion, not dictating it"
  • People use different brands for different reasons. Using three news providers as examples – the Guardian, BBC and BuzzFeed News – the research found that the Guardian is favoured for its opinion and viewpoints, the BBC for accurate reporting and BuzzFeed for entertaining and amusing content. 

Discussing the news media landscape at the report’s launch event, the BBC's James Harding said that "quality is getting more and more heavily prized in the news media" and the market is driving towards that. The Financial Times' Renée Kaplan agreed, saying that platforms need content and "the needle is shifting towards quality content".

You can access the full report here.

by Jessie Sampson 28/06/17

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