The survey’s results are based on three separate, self-administered web surveys conducted between June and July of 2019.
According to the survey results, 45% of American trust reporting by local news organizations “a great deal” or “quite a lot.” When it came to national news organizations, only 31% of respondents reported trust.
Personal feelings about journalists also played into how much respondents trust their news sources. The results showed that 36% of Americans believe local journalists are more likely to be seen as caring than national journalists. Four percent supported national journalists, 29% felt local journalists were seen as trustworthy, 25% felt they were accurate and 23% felt they were neutral.
Highlights of the study:
- More Americans trust local news than national news. Forty-five percent of Americans trust reporting by local news organizations “a great deal” or “quite a lot,” compared with 31% for national news organizations.
- Local news bests national news in earning more trust of Americans for coverage that Americans can use in their daily life (79% to 19%) and in reporting without bias (66% to 31%),among other roles and responsibilities. And, local journalists have more positive attributes thannational journalists, Americans say: Local journalists are more likely than national journalists to be seen as caring (36% vs. 4%, respectively), trustworthy (29% vs. 8%), accurate (25% vs.8%), and neutral or unbiased (23% vs. 10%). Republicans favor local journalists for the positive attributes by wide margins, while Democrats make few distinctions between the two groups.
- Local news is accomplishing most of its key tasks of informing communities: 61% of Americans say their local news organizations do an “excellent” or “good” job of educating people on what is going on in their area.
- But local news also ranks behind most other local institutions in public confidence, with only local government ranking lower: 37% of Americans express “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of trust for local news organizations in their area, compared with 73% for local libraries and 56% for local law enforcement.
- Partisanship is now coloring how people evaluate local news organizations. Half of Democrats express confidence in local news organizations, while only 27% of Republicans do — a 23-percentage-point gap. These partisan levels of confidence are despite the fact that a majority of Americans think the local news media strike a balanced ideological perspective: 53% describe their local news media as “about right,” while 26% say it is “too liberal” and 15% “too conservative.”
- Americans are divided on whether local media have become more biased. Fifty-one percentsay coverage from news organizations in their local area has “stayed about the same,” while 37%see it moving “in a more liberal direction” and 11% “in a more conservative direction.”
- Those who perceive a shift in local news ideology are much less trusting of local news organizations. Americans are not fully persuaded that local news is holding powerful people and institutions accountable. Sixty percent feel local news organizations only do a “fair” or “poor” job of holding leaders accountable for their actions. And, Americans believe that several topics warrant more attention from their local news sources. Areas needing additional coverage include drug addiction (65%), K-12 education (64%), the environment (64%), and the real estate and housing market (61%).
- The key for local news may be to look to those already connected to where they live. People who are strongly attached to their community or who follow the local news closely are more likely to rate local news coverage more highly. For example, 67% of people who follow the news a great deal say local news coverage of local government and politics is “excellent” or “good,” while only 24% of people who don’t follow it closely say the same.