Information we can trust is the lifeblood of democracy. If we don’t trust the news media or receive our information about things through channels that are not vetted, it is hard to imagine that our discourse will contribute to a shared understanding. We will all have our own facts. A new poll conducted for the Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA) provides a detailed perspective on Canadians use and thoughts about news.

Overall Trust Is Declining Recently

It is tempting to draw the conclusion that trust in the news is going down given the culture of attacks on news outlets, particularly in the United States, and the proliferation of fake news references.* We need to be careful that we don’t over-interpret change though.

Since last year, the share of Canadians who have a fair amount or a great deal of trust in traditional news media has declined from 69% to 65%. Not may people have a great deal of trust (11%). For comparison sake, in 2008 the RTDNA found that 69% had a fair amount or a great deal of trust. So ten years ago was not a golden age of news media trust.

It is notable that those under 35 years have the lowest level of trust since unless they build trust over the next decade, generational replacement will lower trust levels.

Ipsos/RTDNA Survey Shows Declining Trust in News Since 2017

Sources Vary by Age

The generational differences in trust in traditional news media are most clearly evident when we ask people what sources they used in the previous month. Older people are much more likely to mention traditional news outlets (broadcast tv; print newspapers and news radio); relatively few young people use these sources. This is not to say they reject the journalism out of hand; 39% of those under 35 years of age got news from a newspaper website.

Social media, Facebook and Twitter are all more likely to be mentioned by younger people. Even if some of the use of social media, Facebook and Twitter by younger people just reflects that they are on these platforms and happen on news rather than seeking it out there, the lower uses of traditional media is an indication that younger people are not getting the same messages. It is also possible that news is no longer a packaged product in the way that older generations think of news, which drives younger people to more dynamic and social sources.

News Sources by Age

Trust in News by Platform

Earlier, the differences in trust in traditional news media by age showed lower trust among those under 35 years of age. When it comes to new media, younger people are only slightly more trusting than the average Canadian and few trust the news all or most of the time. So while they are using the platforms more, they are approaching them with more skepticism than people do for traditional media.

Trust in News by Media Type — Under 35 years versus Total

Curated News Feed — The Desire for Belief Affirming Content

A good indicator of how the consumption of news has changed is the views of Canadians on the news in their social media feed. Overall, 34% either somewhat or strongly agree that they would like the news to reflect their political views but this rises to 44% among those under 35 years of age.

Implications

The overall declining trust numbers are concerning but to-date the decline is modest and not critically important. The future, however, is much less certain. Younger people are less likely to be getting news from traditional sources (except newspaper websites) and are more likely to see, perhaps passively, news on social media and other online channels. Thankfully, Canadians approach these channels with considerable skepticism.

Nevertheless, when news was a shared experience it provided us with a common frame of reference. News was not the only source of information — community organizations, churches and unions also provided voices that were not necessarily fully represented in the news — but it provided us with something that was shared. As Canadians move to other sources of news that shared experience is being lost and online channels, particularly social media ones, are unlikely to fill the void as we are likely to get news that reinforces existing political views.


**note, a Pew Research Center study conducted in 2017 also showed that Canadians are more positive about the performance of the news media than Americans but there is considerable room for improvement.


Source: The survey was conducted for the Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA) by Ipsos. The survey was conducted online (n=1000) between May 16 and 21, 2018. Release

The 2017 survey for RTDA was conducted online (n=1001) by Ipsos between May 5th and May 8th, 2017.