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Trust, Misinformation and Online News David Levy

Research at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism (RISJ) over the past year has continued to focus on some of the most challenging issues faced by journalists and the media industry. These include the funding of journalism, the relationship between news organisations and platforms, and low levels of trust in the news.

The role of platforms such as Facebook and Google in the distribution of news, and the scale and volume of online content continues to be debated. As audiences say they are finding it harder to distinguish fact from fiction online, our work suggests consumer concerns about misinformation are largely triggered by worries about poor standards of journalism.

Our 2018 Digital News Report (DNR) - a study of news consumption based on a survey of 74,000 people in 37 countries - revealed that just over half (54%) of respondents are concerned about what is fake and what is real on the internet. This figure was highest in Brazil and lowest in the Netherlands.

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Of those surveyed, more (75%) said that publishers rather than platforms (71%) should be responsible for fixing the problem, and support for government-based solutions are higher in Europe and Asia than in the US.

The report also identified wide variations in trust in the news across the 37 countries. As in previous years, audiences in Finland and Portugal trust news the most, while Greek and South Korean audiences trust it the least. We found a strong connection between distrust in the media and perceived political bias. This is particularly true in countries with high levels of political polarisation, such as the United States, Italy, and Hungary.

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Increasing concerns about online disinformation and its potential to disrupt democracy have continued to dominate the news agenda. Headlines about ‘fake news’ have attracted the attention of policymakers who, along with academics, journalists and non-governmental organisations, have been working to find ways to verify large amounts of information online.

One recent RISJ study examined the promise and limits of automated fact-checking. It found that while using technology to combat misinformation holds potential, this mostly lies in the development of tools that can assist human fact-checkers to identify and investigate claims.

Issues around digital transition in the news industry remain a strong focus of our work at the Reuters Institute. Professor Lucy Kueng’s report, Going Digital - a Roadmap for Organisational Transformation, argued that for news organisations, internal transformation is as important as content transformation. Kueng researched companies, including The Washington Post, Vox, The New York Times, Le Monde, El Pais and Dagens Nyheter, to identify how media firms adapt to change by increasing agility.

How to pay for journalism remains a central question for all news organisations, as digital advertising revenue increasingly goes to technology companies. Our study, Pay Models in European News, found that more news organisations are implementing paywalls. And the latest DNR revealed that, in some countries, more people are paying for news online, some through news subscriptions, others by donating to news organisations. Interestingly, people in the 25-34 year old age bracket are among those most likely to pay for news online, perhaps due to their experience of paying for films or music online.

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For even more highlights from 2018 DNR, watch the video below:

In the ever-changing global journalism industry, RISJ continues to track trends, changes and advancements, connecting rigorous academic research with the practical experiences of professional journalists, media managers and policymakers.

Our work over the last year has been generously supported by a number of sponsors, including our core funder, the Thomson Reuters Foundation, and also the fourteen funders of the Digital News Report: BBC News, Edelman, Google, BAI, Centre d’Etudes sur les Media, the Netherlands Media Authority (CvDM), Fritt Ord Foundation, Hans Bredow Institute, Korea Press Foundation, Media Industry Research Foundation of Finland, Ofcom, Roskilde University, Universidad de Navarra, and University of Canberra.

David Levy is Director of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism

Follow RISJ on Twitter @risj_oxford

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Photo Credit: Esteban Lopez "Untitled Image"

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