Knight Foundation launched the Trust, Media and Democracy initiative in 2017 to inform solutions to declining trust in journalism and other democratic institutions. Knight has partnered with Gallup to produce a research series that seeks to better understand this trend by exploring Americans’ evolving relationship with the news media and the ways in which Americans seek information and engage in the democratic process.
The research series is anchored by the biennial American Views survey, a large-scale poll of Americans’ attitudes and opinions about the news media and its role in our democracy. Findings from this survey have underscored the linkage between increasing perceptions of partisan bias in news content and the decline in trust Americans’ have for the media as an institution. The 2018 report found that while Americans valued the role of the news media as an important institution in a free society, they did not believe it was fulfilling its democratic roles well. In 2020, Gallup and Knight documented continued pessimism and further partisan entrenchment about how the news media delivers on its democratic mandate for factual, trustworthy information. Nevertheless, Americans have not lost sight of the value of news: strong majorities uphold the ideal that the news media is fundamental to a healthy democracy.
Parts 1 and 2 of our most recent American Views report explore the public’s concerns about the disconnect between journalism’s business model and its role as a democratic institution. The findings underscore the urgency of restoring trust as a financial imperative for the news industry.
Gallup and Knight have also undertaken a range of experimental research as part of this series that can inform journalistic practice. In 2019, the series found evidence that small interventions — such as better informing audiences of the financial crisis facing local news and of the positive correlation between local news consumption and civic participation — can increase willingness to pay for local news. The partnership also created NewsLens, an experimental news aggregator platform to observe and measure news consumption behaviors. This platform was most recently used to study how Americans interacted with news content around the 2020 election and found that, while they do not seem to consume news in so-called echo chambers, Americans tend to assess news content from politically consonant outlets higher than from others. The study also found that personal relevance is a key factor in how readers rate the quality of news they consume online.
Taken together, this ongoing research series comprises one of the most comprehensive studies of how Americans are informed today and their complex attitudes toward an important pillar of our democracy.