Exploring Possible Correlates of Journalists' Perceptions of Audience Trust

By Tsfati, Yariv | Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, Summer 2004 | Go to article overview

Exploring Possible Correlates of Journalists' Perceptions of Audience Trust


Tsfati, Yariv, Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly


A sample of Israeli journalists (n = 209) were asked whether they feel Israeli audiences trust the Israeli media in general, and whether their audience trusts the work of their news media outlet in particular. The correlates of these survey items are examined. Results show that perceived audience trust was correlated with journalists' own trust in the Israeli media and with journalists' evaluation of the audience. Perceived trust was also positively correlated with journalists' identification with professional standards such as neutrality, verification, and factualness. In contrast, perceived audience trust was not correlated with most demographic and professional status variables.

Recent research has explored the causes and consequences of plummeting audience trust in news media institutions.1 For example, it has been demonstrated that audience mistrust moderates media influences, such as agenda-setting effects2 or effects on the perception of opinion climate.3 It has also been argued that mainstream media skepticism is related to audience exposure patterns. Mistrusting audiences tend to diversify their news diets and consume less mainstream and more alternative news.4

Most research has hi therto focused on audience mistrust of the news media. Conversely, this paper explores the way this trust is felt by journalists. Psychological research demonstrates that trust and mistrust are important for the trustee, as well as for the truster. This literature implies thai feeling trusted matters for those receiving trust. If this is indeed the case, journalists' perceptions of audience trust in the news media need to be investigated, and differences between journalists perceiving audience trust and those perceiving audience mistrust need to be explored. The current investigation uses survey data collected from a sample of Israeli journalists (n = 209) and examines possible correlates of perceived audience trust.

Trust and Audience Trust in the News Media

Trust is defined as a voluntary expectation on the part of one party (the trustor) that he/she will benefit from the interaction with another (the trustee) rather than be hurt by it.5 Trust is "an attitude which allows for risk taking decisions."6 Because trust encompasses secular norms, like professionalism,7 trust in journalism is based on the audience's belief in the professionalism of journalistic practice.8 It is possible to apply the concept of trust to the relationship between journalists and audiences,9 because news deals with the impersonal world, and hence the uncertainty of the audience with regard to media reports is embedded in the relationship.

The concept of trust has received a tremendous amount of scholarly attention in various disciplines, ranging from international relations to social psychology. Trust is "the bedrock perception upon which society is possible."10 It allows individuals to establish cooperative relationships whenever doing so is mutually beneficial.11 Sociologists and political scientists alike share the notion that trust is an essential form of what they call "social capital."12 Trust is a social resource not only because it helps people achieve common goals, but also because it helps to reduce the costs of arbitration and enforcement. Putnam argues that trust is a key ingredient in economic dynamism and government performance.13

However, feeling trusted, not merely trusting others, is also important in trust relations. For example, mistrustful forms of supervision, in which supervisors make frequent checks on subordinates, have been shown to lead to anger and aggression toward the supervisor.14 In general, experimental psychological research has demonstrated that feeling mistrusted is related to the greater propensity of trustees to violate trust.15 Thus, social trust becomes "social capital" not only through the increased motivation of trusting people to cooperate, but also through the reduced motivation of trusted people to betray trust. …

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