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How can news and media brands inspire trust in their reporting?

What makes us trust (or distrust) the news?

We live in an era of unrelenting anxiety about the effects of misinformation. The media industry has come out strong in its commitment to combat the public’s growing hesitation to trust the news. But are these tactics working? And if not, why? 

Experts at the Reuters Institute for Journalism recently published a study that outlines a path to finding the answer. 

The study found that the line between trustworthiness and likability is blurry. Since most people are not familiar with the inner workings of the media industry and what needs to happen to get the news on the screen, the strongest indicator of trust lies in brand perception and recognition.

Trust is shorthand for familiarity, reputation and likeability

The study was able to identify three main areas that explain what makes them trust, or in many cases distrust, various sources of news and information.

Familiarity

Almost any guide on how to avoid misinformation will stress the importance of recognizing the source when deciding if it is genuine. This explains why familiarity is one of the main factors in establishing trust with audiences.

“I just have a general feeling, really. I suppose I just trust a major publication that I recognize. If it’s some random page that I’ve no idea about, they rarely come up, it’s more questionable.” Focus group participant, Andrew (25, UK)

The study highlighted that interview subjects often referred to news brands as if they were a family tradition and explained that they are more likely to trust the same brands as their parents and loved ones.

Reputation

Organizations that have been around for a long time tend to inspire more confidence due to the public’s assumption that they have more rigorous reporting practices that have withheld more scrutiny. Concrete knowledge of those journalistic practices and audiences seems far less significant to audiences than their ability to stand the test of time.

It should not come as a surprise that a recurring theme in the report was audiences’ reliance on friends, family and colleagues to help them determine if a new source is credible.

“I will ask my friends if they’ve heard anything about it, my parents if they have heard anything about it.” Focus group participant, Andrea (28, India)

Likeability

When it comes to news consumption, people tend to stick with what they know. They will depend on publishers that they are familiar with and that have brand identities they can relate to. Much of this subconscious decision making around likeability is guided by visual style and copyediting.

“When I open an article and I see it’s full of errors and spelling and grammar mistakes, I know that it’s not something to be relied on.” Focus group participant, Rachel (23, UK)

This is particularly important to remember when presenting news online. Audiences are wary of websites that have too many ads, especially if they are pop-up ads, and overt click-bait headlines that are designed to distract the reader’s attention. These types of user-experience disruptions reflect on the organization’s brand and will deter most people from trusting the news on that site.

The findings in the report probably reflect aspects of your own experience with news consumption and highlight areas where news and media companies can improve. It is second in a series of publications from the Reuters Institute Trust in News project, and you can rest assured that there will be more insight to come on how to reconnect with your audiences and establish yourself as a trustworthy news brand.

Partnering with news organizations is a great way to curate your audiences’ impression of your brand. Seeing your work alongside names that they trust makes your brand more recognizable and can support your reputation as a credible source of information and insight.

Reuters commitment to trustworthy and unbiased news is world-renowned. By working in partnership with our experts, you are aligning your brand with 170 years of world-class journalism.