Journalists, let’s talk about the 90 percent of Republicans who don’t trust us

Joy Mayer
Joy Mayer
Dec 15, 2020 · 4 min read

Only four in 10 Americans say they have a “great deal” or “fair amount” of trust in the news media. That’s according to Gallup, where they’ve been asking that question since 1972. Forty percent is bad, but it’s actually higher than it was in 2016, when the number was 32 percent.

You know what’s not better? The way those numbers shake out along political lines. There is a record 63-percentage-point gap in trust between Democrats and Republicans.

Only 10 percent of Republicans report generally trusting what they see in the news. Here’s Gallup’s breakdown over time.

Gallup 2020

Other data paint a slightly less grim picture. But in general, the theme is a familiar one across research teams, in newsrooms, and with people who moderate comment sections (who probably deserve a raise):

Conservatives increasingly feel like the news is not made for people like them or by people like them.

Often, when journalists talk about this phenomenon, the conversation focuses on the people in comment sections who choose conspiracy theories over facts and think journalists are the enemy of the people. Those people are definitely out there, and it’s unlikely they’ll be converted into your fans anytime soon. They are not the focus of our work at Trusting News.

But do 90 percent of Republicans fall into that camp? Of course not. Many genuinely want to be informed but feel disenfranchised by news outlets. A Gallup/Knight survey this year found that 81 percent of Americans say the news media is “critical” (42%) or “very important” (39%) to democracy. The majority say accurate, fair news reports are important for keeping them informed and holding leaders accountable. They also perceive political bias in the news and say that’s a problem.

Many also believe newsrooms need to increase political diversity on staff. It’s an issue that’s not discussed directly in a lot of newsrooms, but few would disagree that in addition to being much more white, educated and wealthy than the people they aim to serve, newsrooms are also more liberal. (Here’s Nate Silver’s take on the topic after the 2016 election.) Progress is not nearly fast enough when it comes to diversifying both newsroom staffs and audiences across other fault lines such as race and gender, of course, and plenty more hard conversations, self-reflection and action are needed there. Political leanings should be part of the conversation.

When it comes to how the news industry should address this trust chasm with conservatives, I have many more questions than answers. (I also recognize that a label like “conservative” is tricky and is not interchangeable with “Republican” — we need to be careful with language.) But I do feel strongly that we’re overdue for a thoughtful conversation about this issue.

We need to be asking things like:

  • Are we listening to conservative audiences to understand what they’re looking for from the news?

The bottom line for me is this: If we are to thrive in our service to democracy (as well as financially), don’t we need to address this more thoughtfully?

What’s next?

GET IN TOUCH: I don’t know what forms these conversations will take. But if you’re interested in participating in them, let me know here. I’ll keep you in the loop.

SUBSCRIBE TO TRUST TIPS: Our weekly newsletter shares quick, actionable tips for earning trust each week. Subscribe here.

2021 TRAINING: Our Trust 101 class covers transparency and engagement strategies to demonstrate credibility and earn trust. Give us a few hours a week for about a month, and you’ll leave with a customized plan for your own work. Apply for first class of 2021 by Jan. 4.

Trusting News is designed to demystify the issue of trust in journalism. We research how people decide what news is credible, then turn that knowledge into actionable strategies for journalists. We’re funded by the Reynolds Journalism Institute, the American Press Institute, Democracy Fund and the Knight Foundation. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook. Subscribe to our Trust Tips newsletter. Read more about our work at TrustingNews.org.

Trusting News

Advice from the Trusting News project team: Follow along…

Trusting News

Advice from the Trusting News project team: Follow along as we demystify trust in news and empower journalists to demonstrate credibility and actively earn trust.

Joy Mayer

Written by

Joy Mayer

Director of Trusting News. It’s up to journalists to demonstrate credibility and *earn* trust. Subscribe here: http://trustingnews.org/newsletter/

Trusting News

Advice from the Trusting News project team: Follow along as we demystify trust in news and empower journalists to demonstrate credibility and actively earn trust.

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store