Home » OPINION » Columns » TODD SMITH — What makes news trustworthy?

TODD SMITH — What makes news trustworthy?



A new comprehensive study shows that – surprise, surprise – trust and reliability in news is driven by specific factors that publishers can put into action and consumers can embrace.

The news study from The Media Insight Project, a collaboration of the American Press Institute and the Associated Press‑NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, helps establish that trust is an important differentiator for building an audience.

The study also finds that in the digital age, several new factors largely unexamined before – such as the intrusiveness of ads, navigability, load times, and having the latest details – also are critical in determining whether consumers consider a publisher competent and worthy of trust.

The specific factors that lead people to trust and rely on a news source also vary by topic, the study finds. How much consumers value a specific component related to trust depends, for instance, on whether they are seeking news about politics or traffic and weather, let alone lifestyle. On some topics, consumers rate in‑depth reporting and expert sources more highly. In others, ease of use is of higher value. For still others, being entertained is more important.

And in social media, consumers are fairly skeptical of content and want cues of trustworthiness such as clear identification of the original reporting source.

Finally, the study sheds new light on why trust should matter to today’s publishers: It’s not only a journalistic aspiration, but a business imperative. People who put a higher premium on trust‑related factors are more engaged with news, are more likely to pay for it, install news apps, or share and promote news with their friends.

Finally, the study sheds new light on why trust should matter to today’s publishers: it’s not only a journalistic aspiration, but a business imperative. People who put a higher premium on trust‑related factors are more engaged with news, are more likely to pay for it, install news apps, or share and promote news with their friends.

The study employs multiple research methods to drill down into the notion of trust and identifies specific factors that publishers can put into action. With this approach, the study reaffirms that consumers do value broad concepts of trust like fairness, balance, accuracy, and completeness. At least two‑thirds of Americans cite each of these four general principles as very important to them. But the study goes further, breaking down what consumers actually mean when they talk about accuracy or fairness, and adding new specific factors about how people prefer the news to be presented.

Among the study’s findings:

» Accuracy is the paramount principle of trust. Eighty‑five percent of Americans rate it as extremely or very important that news organizations get the facts right, higher than any other general principle. And when we dig down into more specifics, a particular factor related to accuracy —getting the facts right — is most valued regardless of the topic.

» The second‑most-valued factor related to trust, however, has more to do with timeliness. Three‑quarters of adults (76 percent) say it is critical to them that a news report be up to date with the latest news and information. This is something all media can compete on in the digital age on fairly equal footing.

» And the third‑most cited factor in why Americans rely on a news source is related to clarity. Fully 72 percent say it is extremely or very important to them that a news report be concise and gets to the point.

» Online, still other factors come into play. Here people cite three specific factors as most important: That ads not interfere with the news (63 percent); that the site or app loads fast (63 percent); and that the content works well on mobile devices (60 percent). In contrast, only 1 in 3 say it is very important that digital sources allow people to comment on news.

» One of the new discoveries in this study is that the reasons people trust and rely on a news source vary by topic. For example, people are significantly more likely to say that expert sources and data are an important reason they turn to a source for news about domestic issues than about lifestyle news (76 percent vs. 48 percent). People are far more likely to want their source to be concise and get to the point for national politics (80 percent) than sports (61 percent). Similarly, people care more that their sources for sports and lifestyle present the news in a way that is entertaining (54 percent and 53 percent) than say the same about political news (30 percent).

» Even how people rank specific elements of digital presentation varies by topic. Close followers of traffic and weather, for instance, care more that such content presents well on their mobile phones (72 percent say that is very important) than do consumers of national political news (55 percent).

» People who rely on social media heavily for news are highly skeptical of the news they encounter in those networks. Just 12 percent of those who get news on Facebook, for instance, say they trust it a lot or a great deal. At the high end, just 23 percent say they have a lot or a great deal of trust in news they encounter on LinkedIn.

» To overcome that general skepticism, social media news consumers say they look for cues to help them know what to trust there. The most important of those, cited by 66 percent of Facebook news consumers, is trust in the original news organization that produced the content. The reputation of the person who shared the material is a less frequently cited factor for Facebook news consumers (48 percent).

» About 4 in 10 Americans (38 percent) can recall a specific recent incident that caused them to lose trust in a news source. The two most common problems were either instances of perceived bias or inaccuracies.

Purple Mic | Prince’s voice, music & entertainment shaped a generation

Doves cried all over the world last week on news of the untimely death of Prince – an incredible voice and gift to the world that shaped generations and moved the masses.

Prince, the singer, songwriter and master performer who blazed an innovative and fiercely independent path through the music world, establishing himself as both a global star and a defiant outsider in his own industry. The artist behind indelible hits such as “1999,” “Purple Rain,” “Let’s Go Crazy,” “Little Red Corvette” and “Kiss” was 57 years old. The news came less than a week after his private plane was forced to make an emergency landing so that he could receive medical treatment. Born Prince Rogers Nelson, he was a virtuoso of R&B, funk, rock and pop, whose omnivorous approach to music was epitomized by his 1984 masterwork “Purple Rain.”

The world – and the many brands, companies and organizations whose leaders grew up with Prince – quickly turned purple. Companies including Lenovo, Lilly Pulitzer and Maker’s Mark temporarily turned products and logos purple to honor Prince. Iconic buildings, bridges and skylines were lit up in the hue. The world was quick to respond on social media to the news of his death.

Twenty sixteen, please quit squelching the voices of our music superstars! First it was David Bowie, Then Merle Haggard, now Prince. The Spin Cycle – always seeking the right word, turn of phrase, tagline or sound bite to make an impact – in many ways was influenced by these legends. Prince, you take the only – and perhaps last – Purple Mic. You will be sorely missed, but your music, voice and melodious fusion will live on in our world, lives and spirit!

» Todd Smith is president and chief communications officer of Deane, Smith & Partners, a full-service branding, PR, marketing and advertising firm with offices in Jackson. The firm — based in Nashville, Tenn. — is also affiliated with Mad Genius. Contact him at todd@deanesmithpartners.com, and follow him @spinsurgeon.


… we’d like to ask for your support. More people are reading the Mississippi Business Journal than ever before, but advertising revenues for all conventional media are falling fast. Unlike many, we do not use a pay wall, because we want to continue providing Mississippi’s most comprehensive business news each and every day. But that takes time, money and hard work. We do it because it is important to us … and equally important to you, if you value the flow of trustworthy news and information which have always kept America strong and free for more than 200 years.

If those who read our content will help fund it, we can continue to bring you the very best in news and information. Please consider joining us as a valued member, or if you prefer, make a one-time contribution.

Click for more info

About Contributing Columnist

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *