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How we ask about trust in news brands

How we ask about trust in news brands

18th June 2022

Trust is necessarily subjective and in the eye of the beholder, and it is important to note that trust is not always a meaningful indicator of whether a news outlet is trustworthy, whether it is accurate, whether it is fair, or of its quality.

Brand trust scores are only one measure that we look at in the Digital News Report. We ask several other questions about trust each year and provide industry and political context. We also conduct regular additional studies on what shapes perceptions of news brands. Our Trust in News project explores the issue in even more detail with the help of surveys, qualitative studies, and industry interviews.

How representative is this 46-market survey? Who is it representative of?

The Digital News Report survey is based on an online poll but the methodology selects participants to be as representative of national populations as possible. Samples are assembled using representative quotas for age, gender, and region in every market and data is weighted to targets based on census/industry accepted data.

Additional education quotas were applied in all markets except Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Malaysia, Mexico, Nigeria, Philippines, Romania, South Africa, Thailand, and Turkey. In Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Spain, Sweden, Norway, the United States, and United Kingdom we also apply political quotas based on vote choice in the most recent national election.

Data from India, Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa are representative of younger English speakers and not the national population because it is not possible to reach other groups in a representative way using an online survey. The survey was fielded mostly in English in these markets, and restricted to ages 18–50 in Kenya and Nigeria. Findings should not be taken to be nationally representative in these countries.

More generally, online samples will tend to under-represent the news consumption habits of people who are older and less affluent, meaning online use is typically over-represented and traditional offline use under-represented. In this sense, it is better to think of results as representative of the online population.  

What do the brand trust scores mean? Tell us more about the methodology.

We ask each respondent to rate a number of popular brands (15 in each country) in terms of trust in their news output. We do this on 0-10 scale where a score of 0 means that the respondent doesn’t see the brand as trustworthy at all and 10 means that they see the brand as completely trustworthy – with 5 meaning ‘neither trustworthy or untrustworthy’. There is an option for those who have not heard of any particular brand to ensure that responses used are only from those that are appropriately informed.

When we come to report these scores, we add up the proportion of respondents that give a score between 6-10 and mark this as ‘trust’. We also add up the proportion that give a brand a score between 0-4 and mark this as ‘don’t trust’. We then display the 15 brands in order of the proportion that ‘trust’, but also display the ‘don’t trust’ scores.

For avoidance of doubt, the full question asked is …

How trustworthy would you say news from the following brands is? Please use the scale below, where 0 is ‘not at all trustworthy’ and 10 is ‘completely trustworthy’.

Does this mean that the brand at the top is the most trusted and the brand at the bottom least trusted?

Not always. In cases where there is around two percentage points difference or less between the brands, we cannot say for sure that one brand is more trusted than another. In surveys where the sample is around 2000, we normally need around 3pp difference to be sure. We are careful not to try to claim that one brand is more trusted than another or that trust scores have changed unless those changes are statistically significant.

Additionally, due to survey length limitations, it is important to note that we only ask about 15 of the most widely used brands. It is very likely that there are brands with lower (and higher) trust scores that we don’t ask about. For that reason, we can’t say that any brand is the least (or most) trusted overall. Under each chart we are careful to say:

“Those that haven’t heard of each brand were excluded. Only the above brands were included in the survey so should not be treated as a list of the most trusted brands.”

How do you choose which brands to ask about?

The brand selection is a strategic sample and not comprehensive. We consult with country experts, prior years’ Digital News Report data, and other data sources to define the most popular brands (across traditional and online channels) when it comes to news. We also try to include ‘local newspapers’ or ‘local television’ as catch-all titles as we recognise their impact is considerable in most countries, but we can’t ask about each individual brand due to survey length limitations. 

Some of the most widely used brands in your survey are often not very well trusted – how is this possible?

Our research shows that people use news brands for a variety of reasons beyond the political or public interest reporting that can influence trust ratings. Some larger and more popular outlets carry a wider range of entertainment or lifestyle content, for example, which stimulates usage. Also, some brands may be widely used because they have high brand recognition, for instance. Usage and trust are not necessarily correlated. We also find that brands that have a long history and heritage often have higher levels of general trust than brands that have started more recently. It can take time for that track record of trust to be established in the minds of ordinary people.

How do you try to contextualise the findings to ensure that trust scores are not taken out of context or misinterpreted?

These scores may be uncomfortable for some brands but the Reuters Institute believes it is important to provide comparative information over time as well as between countries. Trust is one of a number of measures we track, including consumption of different sources, device usage, social media use, and much more. We aim to maintain consistency in our measurements year-on-year so that ratings of trust, levels of news consumption, and more, can be contextualised.

Country data is accompanied by an 800-word commentary from a media expert that aims to set the data in a wider context. We write a short commentary on the trust scores where appropriate, noting on some occasions statistically relevant changes.