This year, apart from general trust in news we have explored the trust that news users place in specific brands. Brand trust is particularly interesting given that Facebook announced that it will prioritise news ‘from publications that the community rates as trustworthy’,1 using an online survey.
In our report this year we have taken a similar approach to understanding news brand trust. We asked our survey respondents to indicate their trust in selected news brands, on a scale of 0 (completely untrustworthy) to 10 (completely trustworthy). They also had the option of choosing ‘I have not heard of this brand’. The trust scores reported below are calculated after excluding those who claimed not to have heard of the brand in question. Our calculations include all respondents, regardless of whether they use Facebook or not. However, the scores produced by Facebook users are very similar to the overall figures.2 First, as seen in the next chart, we observe large variations in brand trust from country to country. Even the lowest ranked Finnish news brands included in this study score higher than almost all Spanish news brands.
We also find that across a number of countries news brand trust differs by type. In the UK, Germany, Denmark, Italy, and Japan, the public service broadcaster is the most trusted type of brand. This is not the case in Spain, where TVE is one of the least trusted brands of those we asked about (5.54 average trust). Spain is also an outlier when it comes to trust in digital-born brands. While in every other country people tend to trust digital-born outlets less, in Spain they are trusted more on average (led by Eldiario.es with 5.89 average trust). This is partly because of the low trust for traditional brands and partly because many digital brands in Spain were started by well-known journalists with a strong track record.
When looking at differences in brand trust by age, we can see that in the UK people under and over 35 show similar levels of trust for all brands, with the exception of the three tabloid/mid-market brands — the Daily Mail, Daily Mirror, and the Sun — which are more trusted by those over 35. Old-style tabloids may need to change their tone or style to win the trust of younger audiences. It is interesting to note that news brands that are specifically geared towards younger audiences (e.g. BuzzFeed) are equally trusted by young and old.
In many countries we see differences in brand trust according to different political leanings. This is particularly the case in the United States, which as we have previously shown in our 2017 report has some of the most polarised news audiences in the world. Right-leaning respondents (marked in blue on the chart below) strongly distrust many of the news brands we asked about with scores around 3/10 for many legacy American news outlets such as MSNBC, the New York Times, and the Washington Post. Left- leaning respondents show similarly low levels of distrust in two brands, Fox News and Breitbart.
The least polarising brands in the US are local TV news, the Wall Street Journal, and Yahoo! News. Local news tends to be less affected by the bitter national polarised political debates while Yahoo! News follows a relatively neutral fact-based approach and partly relies on news agencies. For almost all other brands, the differences are staggeringly large — the biggest gap is for CNN (7.08/10 for those on the left side of the political spectrum, and 2.4 for those on the right). These differences reflect the current political rhetoric from the right. President Trump has repeatedly accused CNN, the New York Times, Washington Post, NBC, and other brands of being biased and ‘fake news’,3 while repeatedly praising Fox News (particularly morning shows like Fox and Friends).4
An example of a less polarised country in terms of news brand trust is Denmark. While there are strong differences for brands like the right-wing digital-born website Denkorteavis (trusted more by those on the right) and Information (trusted more by those on the left), these gaps are much smaller than polarised outlets in the US. In the UK, polarisation in terms of news brand trust is higher than in Denmark, but still low compared to the US. The most polarised brands in the UK are the two most popular tabloids that are trusted more by those on the right (the Sun and the Mail), followed by the left-leaning Guardian which shows the reverse pattern.
We have also examined differences in trust for public service broadcasters. In countries like Denmark, and to some extent the UK, the differences by political leaning are small (though perhaps not as small as the PSBs would like). In Greece, Hungary, and in Spain, however, trust in public broadcasting is compromised by perceived government interference in editorial decisions or appointments. In these countries PSB trust is lower in general but is very unevenly distributed between left and right.
In the United States, National Public Radio generates most of its funding directly from its predominantly liberal audience and the greater trust scores from the left reflect that reality.
This analysis shows that some brands are trusted much more than others but also underlines how strongly trust can be influenced by pre-existing views about politics. It also suggests that traditional brands with a long track record may have an advantage over digital-born brands and tabloids, even though these also frequently produce high-quality and accessible journalism, as Facebook starts to implement brand trust scores into its algorithms. These findings underline the difficulties in determining which brands should be promoted or demoted as tech companies look to find sustainable solutions to the problems of unreliable news and misinformation.
- As announced on Facebook: https://newsroom.fb.com/news/2018/01/trusted-sources. It was later reported that Facebook’s survey contains two questions: ‘Do you recognize the following websites?’ and ‘How much do you trust each of these domains?’ (answered in a 1–5 scale from ‘Entirely’ to ‘Not at all’) https://www.buzzfeed.com/alexkantrowitz/this-is-facebooks-news-survey?utm_term=.kky08GjeqZ#.babvn4mM1k ↩
- In this survey, we asked for a number news brands in each country. The list of news brands included TV, print, and digital-born outlets. ↩
- For instance: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-01-18/trump-unveils-fake-news-awards-as-senators-decry-press-attacks ↩
- https://www.vox.com/2018/2/9/16997022/strikethrough-trump-fox-friends-feedback-loop-explained-tweet ↩