The public debate about ‘fake news’ and the viral spread of unverified information on social media recently have increased attention on public ‘trust’ in the news media. While questions of trust have always hovered around journalism, President Trump’s abuse of traditionally reputable news organisations such as CNN and the Washington Post has unleashed a new wave of uncertainty about the credibility and role of the news media in democracy.
However, trust levels in journalism were already low prior to Trump. Research conducted by the News & Media Research Centre at the University of Canberra as part of the global Reuters Digital News Report, has found that Australia has one of the lowest levels of trust amongst English speaking countries.
more women than men prefer non-mainstream sources of news, such as newer online news sources and social media
In 2015, The Digital News Report – Australia revealed 39% of Australians had general trust in the news media. Though this was slightly higher in 2016 at 43%, trust in news organisations was 39% and lower still for journalists at 32%. How does this look under a gender lens? Do women trust the news media more or less than men? The data reveals a mixed picture. There are differences in the type of news media women and men consume. In Australia in 2016 men preferred ‘mainstream’ news (82.3%), compared to only 71% of women. ‘Mainstream’ news includes traditional sources such as broadcast and print – and also the online websites and apps of these traditional news companies.
In contrast, more women than men preferred non-mainstream sources of news, such as newer online news sources and social media. This was found elsewhere in the world too. Of the 26 countries surveyed in 2016 women were ‘much more likely to use social media to find news and less likely to go directly to a website or app. Social media – and Facebook in particular – are the only discovery mechanisms that appeal more to women than men’.
Australia has one of the lowest levels of trust amongst English speaking countries.
Despite this finding, there appears to be little difference in trust in news media along gender lines in Australia or amongst the other 26 countries surveyed in 2016. This is interesting, given that there is a connection between lower trust in news and the use of social and online media. From this we might expect women to trust news less if they are more likely to access it via online and social media platforms. So far however, it appears that this is not the case.
This might well change in the 2017 Digital News Report results. The previous two years of research were conducted prior to the ‘fake news’ scandal and Trump’s campaign against the media. We will know by June this year what impact this global debate has had on public trust in the news and whether women’s trust has been more affected than men’s.