What it means to trust the news and the reasons people cite for relying on specific news sources differ between generations, socioeconomic groups, racial and ethnic groups, and men and women.
Younger and older Americans share similar beliefs generally about what trust in news means to them. However, younger Americans place greater value on other factors less explicitly linked to trust in explaining why they rely on specific news sources. More digital in their news consumption overall, younger adults are also more likely place greater weight on specific factors related to its digital presentation and performance.
When it comes to socioeconomics, Americans with higher incomes and more education are more likely to place greater importance on general concepts traditionally associated with trust, such as accuracy, completeness, balance, and transparency.
In general, women and men have similar values when it comes to what they mean by trust. But women tend to place greater importance on the presentation of information, particularly in the delivery of digital content.
We do see some differences in race and ethnicity when it comes the more specific factors related to trust in news. For example, African American and Hispanic adults are more likely than white adults to say it is very important that they see their communities and people like them in the reporting.
And there are some broad differences in levels of confidence in the press by political affiliation, but there are not consistent differences when we probe into what makes something trustworthy. For instance, Democrats are more likely to have confidence in the press than Republicans or independents. Seventy‑one percent of Democrats have at least some confidence in the press compared with 52 percent of independents and 45 percent of Republicans. However, there are not systematic partisan differences in beliefs about what constitutes a trustworthy source or why people rely on certain sources.
Younger Americans place more importance on the delivery and presentation of digital news than older Americans
Younger and older Americans tend to have relatively similar attitudes about what makes a trustworthy news source, but there are age differences when it comes to relying on digital information and the value placed on the convenience of a news source.
Older Americans are more likely than Millennials to say the fact that a source is one that they’ve always used is important, but they are less likely to report that entertainment or multitasking are key qualities. Nearly half of younger adults, for instance (49 percent of those 18‑34 years old and 48 percent of those 35‑49 years old), place high importance on the ability to use these news sources while multi‑tasking. By comparison the same is true of closer to a third of people over 50 years of age (38 percent of those 50‑64 years old and 31 percent of those 65 and older).
There are even more pronounced age differences when it comes to the use of digital sources. To begin with, younger Americans are more likely to get to their favorite sources in a digital format. Fully 59 percent of those who are 18‑34 years old and 56 percent of those 35‑49 years old report using a digital format of the source, compared with 39 percent of those 50‑64 years old and 24 percent of those 65 and older.
But age also plays a significant role in the way people evaluate a news organization’s digital content. Younger digital news consumers place higher levels of importance than older digital news consumers do on load times, ease of use on mobile phones, lack of interference from ads, and inclusion of hyperlinks.
Americans’ education and income affect the role of trust in their news habits
People with different educational backgrounds and income levels vary in the way they evaluate news sources. Americans with higher incomes and more education tend to place more importance on general principles traditionally associated with a trustworthy news source such as accuracy, completeness, balance, and transparency. Yet, there are not substantial socioeconomic differences when it comes to the value of presentation.
In general, highly educated Americans also place more importance on specific factors related to trust. Those with less education tend to place more importance on factors linked to convenience or entertainment.
For example, 76 percent with a college degree say it is very important that a news source presents expert sources and data; the same is true of 65 percent of those with a high school degree or less education. At the same time, people with a high school degree or less are more likely to report it is very important that a source is entertaining (42 percent) than those with a college degree (32 percent).
Americans with higher education also evaluate news and information on social media with more skepticism than those with less education.
For instance, people with higher levels of education are more skeptical when getting news on Facebook. In all, 27 percent of college graduates say that they trust the news and information on Facebook very little or not at all compared to 18 percent of those with some college experience and 14 percent of those with a high school education or less.
Those with higher educations are also somewhat more likely to weigh their knowledge and trust of the news organization that did the reporting. Three‑quarters of those with a college degree report their knowledge and trust of the original source is very or extremely important in whether they would trust what they saw on Facebook. That is true of a sizable but smaller majority (two‑thirds) of those with some college experience and just over half of those with a high school education or less.
Women place greater importance on the delivery of digital news than men
Women and men tend to have similar beliefs about trusting news sources, but there are some gender differences in attitudes, especially regarding the delivery of digital content.
For instance, women are more likely than men to report that presentation is very important (51 percent vs. 44 percent).
With digital news and information, women also place more importance than men on fast loading speeds (67 percent vs. 59 percent), working well on a mobile phone (66 percent vs. 53 percent), and little interference from ads (69 percent vs. 58 percent).
The reasons Americans rely on certain sources vary by race and ethnicity
We see Americans’ attitudes toward the 12 specific factors related to trust in a news source vary based on race and ethnicity, even when we control for education and income differences.
In particular, African American and Hispanic Americans are more likely than white Americans to say it is very important that they see their communities and people like them in the reporting. They are also more likely to put importance on sources that shares their points of view, and on the news being presented in a way that is entertaining.
In addition, African American adults assign greater importance on the presentation of diverse points of view than do white adults.