How do people in Denmark, Spain, and the U.S. feel about newspapers, broadcast news, and news they can read online? Are journalists still credible? More importantly, are traditional media like printed materials, radio, and t.v. more reliable than digital media? These are some of the questions that a study, published in June 2023, entitled Perceptions of journalism and trust in news among traditionalist and digitalist media users. A comparative analysis of Denmark, Spain and USA attempts to answer. It was done by researchers Aurken Sierra, Javier Serrano-Puche, and Jordi Rodriguez-Virgili of the University of Navarra (Spain).
The study analyzes the level of trust people have in news outlets and the relative credibility attributed to journalism and the media by people in Denmark, Spain, and the United States – three countries that were purposely chosen for being so different from each other, media-wise. They were classified as the following models by scholars Hallin and Mancini (2004): Corporatist-Democratic (Denmark), Polarized Pluralist (Spain), and Liberal (United States).
Questionnaire and methodology
The research was done through the administration of two online surveys, conducted in 2019 and 2020 by the Reuters Institute on a panel of 2,000 people in each country. The online questionnaire contains a wide range of questions on how people consume information. People who consume news using traditional sources (newspapers, radio, or t.v.) were assigned to the “traditionalist” category, while those who consume the news primarily from digital devices (smartphones, tablets, or computers) were assigned to the “digital” category.
The study’s results
The results of this study show that people who refer to traditional media such as newspapers, radio, and t.v. for their news updates have a higher level of trust in those telling them the news than the people whose main sources of information are digital devices. Users of traditional media also have a higher degree of satisfaction with regard to the long-standing duties of journalism, such as holding institutions accountable (adversarial duty), disseminating topical information (popularizing duty) and explaining current events to their audiences (interpretative duty). There are differences among countries, especially in the evaluation of the adversarial duty. The Spaniards, who belong to a system classified as polarized pluralist, rate the performance of the media in their country the worst.
In an era characterized by an onslaught of news and the simultaneous presence of several media, both analog and digital, the results, nonetheless, point to the general prevalence of cross-media use, both analog and digital, among the people surveyed. However, in this regard, disparities emerge among the three countries involved in the research. Americans and Danes show a significant preference for digital media, while the difference between digital and traditional media adherence among Spaniards is minimal.
In general, people who consume news through newspapers, radio, or television show greater trust in news outlets than people who consume news through digital devices.
In short, the heated rivalry between traditional and digital media seems to have no end. What is interesting to note in this study is that trust in journalism hasn’t terribly collapsed – if it’s true that there are people who still believe that news outlets have a role of empowering leadership and institutions. Perhaps there is a balance between this very rosy view and the much more pessimistic one shown by Edelman Trust, which in its 2020 report, presented the role of the journalist as taking a steep nosedive in terms of credibility and positive influence in society. In a world of social media where everyone has a megaphone to spread their own content – risking the loss of the boundary between information and disinformation, news and fake news – the intermediary role of the journalist is still fundamental for the safeguarding of the existential balance of freedom of expression and thought.