Research: The importance of trusted news sources during an election

By Rahul Sethi


Toronto, Ontario, Canada


This past summer, Vividata, in partnership with Kantar, released the Canadian Trust in News Study. This study examined how Canadians feel about their news sources in the era of “fake news,” their preferred and trusted sources, and the importance of quality journalism.

In my last post, I discussed audience awareness of “fake news” and the importance for news brands to leverage their heritage of trust and reputation for providing in-depth coverage to retain and grow audiences. In this post, we further explore the opportunity for news brands to assert their inherent credibility, especially during an election year.

Trust in news coverage of politics and elections

In October of 2019, Canada will have its next national election — and today are the national mid-term elections our neighbouring United States. In any country, national elections are a gripping time for news audiences, especially with the propagation of “fake news.” Trust in the news sources audiences use is paramount as they search for election updates, candidate platforms, and an idea of who they should elect to run their country.

As far as trust in news coverage of politics and elections, digital media is losing out in terms of the impact of “fake news” on trust. Sixty-six percent of news audiences claim to trust social media less as a result of “fake news.” Also, losing audience sentiment regarding trust are Web sites or apps of digital-only news outlets. It is not surprising digital-only channels are losing audience trust, as the creators of “fake news” rely on these channels to spread their content.

Traditional, offline news sources fare much better. Printed national daily newspapers have gained the most trust since the proliferation of “fake news,” followed by radio and then television. Printed local newspapers have the highest retainment of trust at 76%, followed by printed magazines.

The trusted status of traditional news media clearly impacts this dynamic of traditional news organisations having a much greater reserve of audience trust.

Attitudes toward news

Eighty-one percent of news audiences believe accuracy in journalism is key to a healthy democracy. A lesser 62% trust that what they read is true and not “fake news” most of the time.

News is under more scrutiny than ever. External, partisan influence on the news is a concern for most. A majority of news audiences (60%) worry news media is failing to hold politicians and leaders accountable for certain actions, and 41% believe Canadian news media is truly unbiased and free from political influence most of the time. Such audience opinions on news become even more pronounced during the news frenzy that occurs around an election.

With its effect on trust, “fake news” has created a propensity among news audiences to verify facts in one media source with another. Seventy-nine percent of news audiences agree they question and verify, elsewhere, facts in a news story they have seen. This verification of facts is likely what has led many to use multiple sources for news; one in four Canadians say they use a greater number of news sources now in comparison to a year ago.

News audiences are personally empowered to combat “fake news” because they must be, and especially so during an election year. Only 6% of news audiences have noticed Google or Facebook (the largest digital media companies) taking steps to help identify “fake news,” thus increasing the importance and audience reliance on trusted, established news sources.

Effective ways to tackle “fake news”

Half of Canada’s news audience believes it is individuals’ responsibility to tackle “fake news” through choosing credible news sources; 45% call for tougher regulations.

News audiences also see the potential for technology to help them make the right choice for news to trust. Nearly one-third believe alerts next to “fake news” stories are an effective way to tackle these stories. They also believe fact-checking bots or teams of human moderators are equally effective as alerts.

What’s clear here is audiences realise they play a part in stemming the spread of “fake news.” This further presents an opportunity for traditional, established news brands to assert the quality and credibility of their journalism and their deep history and commitment to reporting the news accurately.

Regarding trust, there is a distinct traditional and digital media dynamic at play. Traditional media clearly garners much more trust from news audiences than digital media.

News is always at the forefront of conversation. During an election year, it is even more so. During these times of diminishing trust in news, audience growth and engagement can be had by news organisations stressing accurate, quality journalism and editorial integrity — and that free themselves from government or corporate pressures.

About Rahul Sethi

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