Brand and Trust in a Fragmented News Environment

Are digital and social media fuelling a more partisan, less rational political discourse? With more people relying on social media for news 1, both the Brexit result in the UK and the rise of Donald Trump in the US have raised concerns around the growth of echo chambers and the reliability and accuracy of news on social media – while trust in mainstream news is low in many countries.

The Reuters Institute today releases the results of qualitative research conducted earlier this year by Kantar Media, looking at issues of brand and trust in an increasingly fragmented distributed news environments, where aggregators and social media play a key role.  The project covers four countries – Germany, Spain, the UK and US – with a series of pre-tasked discussion groups, allowing for detailed investigation into people’s digital news habits and preferences.
The research asks how people make sense of the plethora of providers and the cacophony of voices they face online. It explores the level of attribution that takes place on social media and aggregator websites and what drives trust within these distributed environments.

Key findings:

  • Consumers’ trust in news is complex but is most readily associated with news content and, in particular, perceptions of its accuracy, impartiality, and tonality
  • Trust was undermined where news content was perceived as having a sensationalist or overtly attention-grabbing tone
  • Older users are more likely to favour website hubs while younger users are increasingly becoming aware of stories via social media. The vast majority of participants tended to have a preferred source for initial awareness of news stories and almost all gravitated towards online sources to learn about news stories.
  • Social media is appreciated for its ease of access and the way it provides different perspectives but there are concerns about inaccurate information and unpleasant comments while social filtering risks creating a news bubble
  • Views about editors vs algorithms were mixed, with the more digital savvy favouring the personalisation and perceived neutrality of algorithms, while others gravitate towards the familiarity and convenience of content selected by editors and journalists

You can download the full report (pdf) here

  1. Reuters Digital News report 2016 showed that 12% (average of 50,000 polled in 26 countries) say social media is now their main news source. Trust in the news in general ranges from 65% in Finland to just 33% in the US and 20% in Greece.