Why do news consumers have more trust in local news?

ASU's News Co/Lab survey finds one in five people associate the word "fake" with the news media

Local news carries with it more credibility among consumers than its national counterpart, which almost one in five people associate with "fake" news, according to a recent study.

Only 3 percent think of local news coverage as "fake" news, according the survey, which was conducted over the summer by the News Co/Lab at ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

The survey was conducted of a nationally representative sample of 6,000 respondents through Google Surveys.

About 19 percent of the respondents filled in the word “fake” when asked what they think of news. This sharp contrast suggests that people have higher trust in local news than in national publications, a finding that has heightened relevance in a time when the credibility of news has become a political talking point.

“When you think of media from that broad, no-face-to-a-name standpoint, it’s very easy to be negative about it,” Kristy Roschke, managing director at the News Co/Lab, said. “But when you think of your personal or local news, there’s more of a connection there ..."

Roschke said the survey question on local news received about 2,000 responses.

Interest in the term "fake news" saw a sharp increase right after the 2016 presidential election, and a study by the Knight Foundation and Gallup said most Americans have lost trust in the media over the last decade. 

Unfortunately, fake news is an ill-defined term. Some among the respondents seemed to feel that fake news was simply content they disagreed with, as opposed to content that was inaccurate. But that's not a perception Roschke agrees with.

“Fake news is not news that you don’t agree with,” Roschke said. “If we had asked people in the survey what they thought fake news was, there would have been a variety of answers, and I think it would have largely been ‘what I don’t believe in.'"

The survey results also highlighted that a large portion of respondents, 16 percent, said that they found it difficult or very difficult to distinguish between fact and opinion in the news they consume. 

The News Co/Lab’s research has given journalists a new outlook into how viewers perceive the news and how they could change their procedures to better suit their subscribers' wants and needs.

“For us it’s really about taking the survey data and making sure it’s heard and making sure people know that local news isn’t correlated to fake news,” Sayo Akao, digital communications specialist for the News Co/Lab, said. “Local news can take our results as an opportunity to now engage with their audiences a little bit more.”

The News Co/Lab is encouraging local news outlets to not take the trust of the audience for granted, Roschke said. 

The implications of these findings have reached ASU's news operations. Cronkite News, the news division of Arizona PBS produced by students in the Cronkite School, recently established Full Circle, a production put on by the reporting staff that follows them through their reporting process to clearly show how they put together the nightly newscast.

“Part of journalism and the public’s perception of journalism is that (the public doesn't) really understand what we do and what we go through to deliver the stories that eventually make it to air or appear in local newspapers,” Melanie Alvarez, Cronkite News' assistant news director said. “(On Full Circle), it’s everything from sources backing out on them, interviews getting cancelled and getting a flat tire on the way to an interview; it’s not some predetermined story that we try to tell. We go out and try to find it.”

Cronkite News has produced two episodes of Full Circle, one that aired earlier this year and another that aired on August 20. These were shown in place of their regularly scheduled news broadcast, which reaches 1.9 million homes across the state of Arizona. 

“It was a bold move for us … but I think it was worth the risk because now I think we can see even more ways we can ... involve the public in our process and get them to trust us again,” Alvarez said.

After all, the Knight Foundation and Gallup study also found that most Americans felt that they could regain their trust in the media. 

Cronkite News plans to lead by example for other local news organizations by constantly looking for new ways to give audiences the clarity and transparency they want. 

Roschke said there's now an opportunity to better define a path forward for news outlets. 

"There's an opportunity ... to continue to make people feel not only neutral feelings (about the news) but to feel positive feelings about them because they recognize that local news is something that's important to their lives," she said. 

 Reach the reporter at  mlshuman@asu.edu or follow @mackenzieshuman on Twitter.

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