Media must grow trust, not just debunk facts


New research published in the Harvard Kennedy School of Government’s Misinformation Review argues that news media organisations should put more effort into improving acceptance of reliable information than fighting misinformation.

Why it matters

Debunking, fact-checking, truth-finding. All of it is good and necessary but it has a minimal effect on trust in reliable news organisations. Trust grows differently.

Easier said than done, but it’s a finding that adds some clarity to an increasingly complicated news media landscape – one in which brands are also trying to get their message into trusted environments.

But this story concerns news organisations as brands, too. As Pew finds, trust in the institution of the news media is diminishing, readers and viewers increasingly identify with specific news brands.

The fight for information

Researchers from Oxford University’s Reuters Institute, whose initial findings were first reported in Nieman Lab, base their results on simulations from models.

“Simulations show that, given that most of the news consumed by the public comes from reliable sources, small increases in acceptance of reliable information (e.g., 1%) improve the global information score more than bringing acceptance of misinformation to 0%.”

“Interventions” might include some pretty standard stuff:

  • Transparency boxes explaining how a story was put together and by who can enhance credibility.
  • Credibility labels, which have been shown to improve the acceptance among those with the lowest quality news diets.
  • Fact-checks with opinion pieces defending journalism (only one study backs this).
  • Providing fact checking tips/digital literacy tips.

What about other methods?

Curiously absent is the role of advertising, which is complicated but when it’s done right, crafted with quality and placed in prestige environments, can work wonders for building trust. See WARC’s guide to understand how.

This article first appeared in

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