WASHINGTON, DC (Oct. 29, 2019) – A new Knight/Gallup study confirmed that local news remains more trusted than national news, but the survey also found that this trust advantage is tenuous and in danger of falling prey to the same forces eroding trust in the national news media.
Overwhelmingly, Americans value local news outlets, believe they are doing their job well and do a better job than national news outlets at reporting without bias and covering news they can use in their daily life, the study released today, “The State of Public Trust in Local News,” found.
The evidence suggests, however, that the trust advantage that local news outlets have over their national counterparts is more a sign of skepticism toward national media than enthusiasm for local publications.
In addition, the study found:
- Mirroring trends at the national level, Americans’ trust levels in local news varies greatly by political party – with 50% of Democrats expressing high levels of trust in local news, but only 27% of Republicans and 31% of Independents.
- When compared with other local institutions, local news organizations are among the least trusted—ranking below public libraries and local law enforcement, and only ahead of local government.
The study concluded that if local newsrooms become more aggressive in covering controversial social and political topics, coverage which on the national level tends to be seen as more partisan and biased, the trust they enjoy now could wane.
At a time when local news is facing a deep financial crisis, this report sheds light on what Americans value about local media outlets, and the areas they think need improvement.
Available at kf.org/trustinlocalnews, the report is part of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and Gallup’s research series on Trust, Media and Democracy, which seeks to better understand Americans’ evolving opinions of the media and to inform solutions.
“Our democracy needs good, reliable and trusted local information,” said Sam Gill, vice president for communities and impact, and senior adviser to the president. “This report is a wake-up call. Local news enjoys higher trust. But we must fight to protect that trust if we seek to preserve it.”
The report identified ways that local news outlets might boost their trust, including increasing their focus on local stories, instead of supplementing with national content, which often happen in times of shrinking budgets. In addition, local outlets could put a greater emphasis on the accountability reporting that keeps powerful people and institutions in check- something survey respondents said was lacking. Doing so would not only fulfill local news’ mission, but also reinforce universally-shared values condemning corruption and abuse in local institutions.
About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
Knight Foundation is a national foundation with strong local roots. We invest in journalism, in the arts, and in the success of cities where brothers John S. and James L. Knight once published newspapers. Our goal is to foster informed and engaged communities, which we believe are essential for a healthy democracy.