Among its other findings, the 2023 report also shows an apparent decline in US news avoidance, a sustained rise in the proportion of people paying for online news and social media on the cusp of overtaking television as the leading source for Americans’ news.
Who do Americans trust for news? Once again, the answer is the BBC
The proportion of Americans who said they trust “most news most of the time” rose this year for the first time since 2017’s Digital News Report, jumping six percentage points to 32%. That is the highest score since 2019 – but remains down on 2017, when it stood at 38%.
Even with the improvement, Americans’ trust in news is low in absolute terms: the country ranked 36th for trust out of the 46 markets surveyed, tying with Romania.
The report’s authors wrote: “Tentative evidence suggests that both news interest and news trust are rebounding in the US after significant drops last year.”
But they added that “if these encouraging figures reflect a slight cooling of partisan rancour in an electoral off-year, longer term declines in news trust are likely to be reasserted during the looming presidential race".
While news engagement “remains well below” the highs of 2020, they said there had been a “hint at a recovery from the wave of ‘tuning out’ that followed the Trump presidency.” Some 73% of US respondents said they access news at least once a day - up six percentage points on 2022’s report.
BBC News continues to be the most-trusted of the news brands Americans were asked about, boasting the approval of 50% of respondents. Local television news as a category however was more trusted still, with 61% approval.
(The survey authors note that “only the below brands were included in the survey” - and so the scores cannot be treated as an exhaustive list of the most trusted news titles. There may be more or less trusted titles that respondents were not asked about.)
Some 44% of the 2,081 people surveyed said they do not trust Fox News, the highest proportion of any publisher on the list. The Murdoch-owned channel was followed by Buzzfeed News, which was distrusted by 38% of Americans. (Buzzfeed News was shuttered earlier this year, with those journalists who kept a job shuffled into either the main Buzzfeed brand or Huffpost.)
However, a comparison between 2023’s figures and those for 2020 shows a persistent decline in trust, as well as a growth in distrust, for every news brand about which respondents were asked.
For example, between 2020 and 2023 USA Today suffered a three percentage point decline in the proportion of Americans saying they trust the national newspaper, and a three percentage point rise in the proportion saying they do not trust it.
This deterioration in net trust - the percentage of respondents who trust a brand minus those who distrust it - has hit the most-trusted brands the hardest. BBC News dropped by ten points in four years, the largest of any publisher assessed. The Wall Street Journal, the second most trusted news brand on the list, likewise suffered the second largest net trust decline, losing nine points.
The only news brand which had the same percentage of Americans saying they trusted it in 2020 as in 2023 was Yahoo! News, which regained five percentage points from its notably low 2022 score of 31%. Every other brand lost trust over the period.
The percentage of Americans saying they distrust the named news brands meanwhile rose for all but two organisations - CNN (static on 2020) and NBC/MSNBC (one point fall in distrust).
But local television news, notably, did not suffer a decline in net trust, maintaining the same score in 2023 as it had in 2020.
Social media set to overtake television as Americans’ leading source for news
Another notable finding in the report is that the proportion of Americans getting their news from social media drew equal, for the first time, to the proportion of Americans getting their news from television. Both stand at 48%.
The percent of Americans using social media for their news has remained largely flat in the RISJ reports since 2016, when it first hit 46%. However, the use of television as a primary source of news has shown a general decline, suggesting it will likely fall below social media in the next few years.
The web in general - encompassing both social media, apps and websites - has meanwhile long since supplanted television as the most popular news source for Americans, having been the top category since the Reuters Institute began asking in 2013.
Individual news brands appear to be reaching more Americans offline than online. Some 23% of US respondents reported watching Fox News weekly, 19% CNN and another 19% NBC/MSNBC. The online news brands Americans reported accessing weekly the most were CNN (17%), Yahoo! News (17%) and Fox News (16%).
This may reflect a broader trend described in the 2023 report of younger people moving away from following specific news brands and toward encountering them on their social media feeds.
Also enjoying a sustained rise has been the proportion of Americans paying for online news, which in the 2023 report charts at 21%.
After a dip to 19% in 2022, this year’s Digital News Report appears to indicate the bump in paying online subscribers that accompanied the pandemic has at least some stickiness. Last year's Digital News Report found that among Americans who pay for news, the majority subscribe to more than one outlet. The only other country where that was found to be true was Australia.
And 2023 was the third year the Reuters Institute asked respondents whether they had listened to a podcast in the previous month. Having remained at 37% for both 2021 and 2022, in 2023 the figure rose to 41%.
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