July 18, 2018

Readers’ trust in news stories depends more on the source’s alignment with their political preferences than the actual content of the story, according to a new report from the Knight Foundation and Gallup.

Source attribution can reduce readers’ trust by reminding them of their personal preferences and biases, the study suggests.

The study assigned 3,432 Americans to one of four groups, where they viewed news articles on an aggregation website that included the article’s news source, the accompanying image, both source and image, or neither. In the display below, articles are shown with the news source but no image.

(Knight Foundation/Gallup)

Study participants rated the trustworthiness of articles about politics, economics and science.

The study used seven news sources across the political spectrum. From left-leaning to right-leaning, according to the researchers: Media Matters, Vox, The New York Times, The Associated Press, Fox News, Breitbart News and 100PercentFedUp.

(Knight Foundation/Gallup)

The groups that viewed articles with displayed news sources rated those articles as less trustworthy. The inclusion of images with articles didn’t affect trust ratings. One alternative for aggregation sites could be a setting that allows users to hide the news source, the report suggests.

A few more findings:

The AP was the most trusted news source across all groups. Regardless of the inclusion of source or image in the display, readers rated AP stories as the most trustworthy, followed by The New York Times.

Breitbart News, 100PercentFedUp and Media Matters had the lowest trust ratings. Even when articles were shown without sources, readers were generally able to determine that their content was less trustworthy than more moderate sources.

Partisan trust ratings followed expected patterns based on sources’ political leanings. When sources were hidden, both parties favored sources representing their ideological preferences. Democrats rated left-leaning sources, except for Vox, as more trustworthy when the source was shown. Republicans rated right-leaning sources as more trustworthy when the source was shown.

The greatest drop in partisan trust ratings came from Democrats on stories when the source was shown to be Breitbart News or Fox News. The sources’ brands affect perceived trustworthiness more than the information presented in the stories, according to the report.

Independents’ trust in stories dropped significantly when the source was shown to be a left-leaning news source. The same pattern didn’t apply for independents and right-leaning sources.

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