Groundbreaking Study Offers Roadmap To Win Back Trust



If just one journalist from a local news source is not trusted, audiences are overwhelmingly less likely to use the source overall. 

That is one of several takeaways from a groundbreaking fact-finding research project the Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA) conducted with Magid. Results of the study were released today in an exclusive first look at RTDNA22 in Indianapolis and will be published more thoroughly in the weeks ahead. 

According to the study, 60% of local news viewers are in Strong Agreement that one journalist can compel people to tune out. But that was one of several factors that have a big impact on trust in local news.

“For some time now we’ve known the ‘what’ – that public trust in journalism has been eroding, even for local broadcast newsrooms, which, by and large, have always been among the most trusted,” RTDNA President and CEO Dan Shelley said. “Now we know, for the first time, the ‘why,’ and, more important, ‘how’ local journalists can rebuild and retain trust.”

The study’s biggest takeaway — perhaps no surprise to journalists who have been fighting “fake news” claims for the better part of a decade — is there is no panacea, no silver bullet to winning and losing trust. Rather, the study identifies a pattern of behaviors and practices that most influence whether consumers believe what they see and hear. 

The result is a roadmap for newsrooms to adopt and follow to maintain and win back trust in their communities. RTDNA will work over the coming months to make this roadmap accessible to any newsroom that wants it.

“For years we have seen the research that trust in journalism is declining, but what we need is to hear from audiences on how we can turn the tide and grow trust,” said Ellen Crooke, chair of RTDNA’s Working Trust Group. “RTDNA commissioned this study in the hope that this information will help local news leaders across America work to change the narrative about journalism. The results show that it is time to be transparent and boldly explain every day how we execute the basic principles of good journalism.”

Those surveyed were asked to evaluate a series of actions and qualities and rate them from 1 (totally disagree) to 10 (totally agree) on how they impacted trust in local news. The findings revealed strong agreement (8-10 scores) by more than 50% of local news consumers on more than two dozen actions and qualities. Those include:

  • They are knowledgeable about the local community and what issues are important (57%)
  • They are authentic and genuine (55%)
  • When they make a mistake or error, they own up to it and apologize (54%)
  • They ask tough questions of government officials and politicians (53%)
  • They take the time in their reporting to explain how stories developed and changed over time (53%)

"Local news sources and journalists may think they're already doing many of the things the research finds important. But local news consumers still question whether they can trust the local news and information regardless of what platform they're using,” said Magid Executive Vice President Bill Hague. “The path forward is all about taking action in a clear and demonstrative way each and every day, so you can get credit for delivering trusted, high-quality journalism."

Magid randomly selected 2,000 local news consumers (must use a local source at least once weekly), ages 18-64, for an online survey in April and May. Of those 2,000, 49% identified as women, 50% identified as men, and 1% identified as non-binary. 

The Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA) is the world's largest professional organization devoted exclusively to broadcast and digital journalism. Founded as a grassroots organization in 1946, RTDNA’s mission is to promote and protect responsible journalism. RTDNA defends the First Amendment rights of electronic journalists throughout the country, honors outstanding work in the profession through the Edward R. Murrow Awards and provides members with training to encourage ethical standards, newsroom leadership and industry innovation Join our community of courageous news leaders and friends of the First Amendment or support our work – and local journalism across the country – with a gift that makes a difference in democracy.

About Magid
Magid is a consumer-centered business strategy company delivering courageous thinking that shapes better experiences, products and services. Since 1957, thousands of local and global brands in over 40 countries have engaged the firm for bold ideas that have helped achieve innovation and success. The Magid team is passionately curious and driven by the pursuit of improving human experiences with every engagement.