To resolve trust issues, news media should consider going “back to the future”

By Dr. Merja Myllylahti

Auckland University of Technology (AUT)

Auckland, New Zealand


New Zealand’s media had one of its darkest — if not the darkest day(s) — on April 11, 2024. This was the day when the leading television broadcasters TVNZ (publicly owned) and Newshub (owned by Warner Bros Discovery) confirmed more than 300 job cuts affecting news and currents affairs reporting and production.

A couple of days earlier, our Trust in News in Aotearoa New Zealand report offered other grim news, showing that only one-third of New Zealanders trust the news. In a period from 2020 to 2024, trust in news has tumbled from 53% to 33%.

Additionally, the number of those actively avoiding news continues to grow. Our report is produced by the AUT research centre for Journalism, Media, and Democracy (JMAD).

When we asked the news editors and industry experts what could be done to regain the trust in news and journalism, many suggested transparency, accountability, and accessibility are some of the key elements to gain the trust of news audiences.

Some of them are already taking measures to improve trust. For example, NZME, which owns The New Zealand Herald, introduced journalists’ bios and is in process of making “labelling improvements around opinion articles, including suggestions to read contrasting articles.”

As a trust researcher, I believe journalism has to go back to basics, providing people with facts and not opinions as well as engaging with their audiences and communities.

In our 2024 survey, The Otago Daily Times (ODT), published in New Zealand’s South Island, is regarded the most trustworthy news brand in the country. The previous year, it tied for first place with public interest broadcaster RNZ and TVNZ. The ODT is owned by Allied Press, an independently owned news publisher.

When Editor-in-Chief Paul McIntrye explains why he thinks the newspaper (published in print and online) is the most trusted, his answer is quite simple: The newspaper is doing “old school journalism” by “focusing on keeping major institutions honest, providing balanced and fair reporting without opinion.” Its journalists are still doing rounds; they cover council meetings and courts and are engaged with their communities.

Another newspaper, the National Business Review (NBR), was ranked for the first time as the second most trusted news brand together with RNZ. The news publisher removed all opinions from its news site in 2023. While I am not in favour of removing all opinions from news, I think journalists’ opinions should not be expressed in news stories.

Our trust survey shows opinions irk New Zealand audiences. When we asked why people don’t trust the news, these kinds of typical answers came back: “So much is opinion not reporting,” and “I want news facts by journalists, not opinion pieces by TV/radio presenters.”

In the middle of all the excitement about the technologies, AI, new tools, and gadgets, it is easy to lose sight of what the core purpose of journalism is: to provide audiences with facts and hold those in power accountable.

Therefore, perhaps one solution to the news trust problem is to go “back to the future.”

About Dr. Merja Myllylahti

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