Reuters Institute report shares hard truths about reader trust

By Peter Bale


New Zealand and the U.K.


Trust — how to promote it, keep it, and nourish it — is one of the three pillars of the INMA Newsroom Initiative. And the latest Digital News Report from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism shows in cold hard data that news organisations are often failing on trust.

At a time when consumers are making tough choices on how many subscriptions they’re prepared to keep — the median is a depressing one, yes one — and readers say they are turning off news because it makes them feel bad, it’s critical we get the trust deficit turned around.

The second master class of the Newsroom Initiative was all about trust. It could be a tool kit to understand some of the levers you can pull to promote trust, including reinforcing the commitment to trust in the newsroom — truly understanding what reader trust is and what human needs you’re seeking to stimulate or meet. Marketers know that; journalists need to.

The Reuters report's deep dive on news engagement within Finland.
The Reuters report's deep dive on news engagement within Finland.

Here are my takeaways from the RISJ Digital News Report as they apply to the pillars of the INMA Newsroom Initiative: business models for journalism, creating high-value journalism (which is mostly where trust lives), and impact and influence (which is the culture section really).

  • Trust is a critical human and consumer need. And trust in news media is falling in many critical markets, sliding back to and sometimes beyond levels from before the pandemic hit when consumers appeared to credit news media with communicating that well. Trust is solid in Finland, but weak in the United States. What is Finland doing right, both from a government and societal perspective, but also at its national daily Helsingor Sanomat?

  • Do newsrooms understand what their readers do and do not trust about their work? When did you last talk face-to-face with readers? In Wellington, Stuff recently moved its office to a street frontage, literally opening itself to its audience and scrutiny. In the trust master class, Sally Lehrman, chief executive of The Trust Project, addressed what newsrooms and media groups need to do to create or rebuild trust. 

  • If the median number of subscriptions is one — and in some markets a tiny percentage of readers say they pay for news, according to the RISJ report — how are you reaching consumers and generating alternative revenues? Events, advertising strategies that link premium content to premium advertising, doing stories that are genuinely uplifting and that reflect communities in an accurate way back to their members?

  • Is newsroom culture promoting trust between staff as well as between staff and their work and the audience? In a presentation to the INMA World Media Congress, Anna Åberg, managing editor of Dagens Nyheter, explained how the pandemic and working remotely taught her organisation important lessons about trust and collaboration.

Here are elements from the RISJ Digital News Report I found relevant to the Newsroom Initiative. I will let other Initiative leads deal with their specific areas:

  • “More people are disconnected, interest in news is down, selective news avoidance up, and trust far from a given,” the lead author of the report, Nic Newman, wrote.

  • “We … find evidence that the overwhelming and depressing nature of the news, feelings of powerlessness, and toxic online debates are turning many people away — temporarily or permanently.”

  • “Publishers will need to be even more focused on meeting the needs of specific audiences and demonstrating value to users.” [He could have said newsrooms.]

  • “Podcast growth has resumed this year in more than half of our markets after COVID-19 had disrupted the commute to work, negatively affecting news consumption.”

  • “A significant proportion of younger and less educated people say they avoid news because it can be hard to follow or understand — suggesting that the news media could do much more to simplify language and better explain or contextualise complex stories.”

If you have story types or approaches you think answer these issues, let me know and we can cover them in best practice sessions of the Newsroom Initiative:

If you’d like to subscribe to my bi-weekly newsletter, INMA members can do so here

About Peter Bale

By continuing to browse or by clicking “ACCEPT,” you agree to the storing of cookies on your device to enhance your site experience. To learn more about how we use cookies, please see our privacy policy.