Most and least trusted news sources in America
Journalism, an industry tasked with holding the powerful accountable and contextualizing current events, has had a fascinating but challenging start to the 21st century. Shifting business models, evolving newsrooms, and battles against biased alternatives have all had a major impact on how news organizations produce and deliver stories to their readers.
As Americans increasingly look beyond traditional outlets for their daily news diet and the White House relentlessly brands most media organizations as “failing” or “fake,” it can be difficult to discern the best options for authoritative and objective reporting about your town or around the world.
To help evaluate the level of trust across a spectrum of news sources, The Missouri School of Journalism’s Trusting News Project surveyed 8,728 respondents across the United States on how they consume, support, and perceive their news. As part of the survey, each respondent was asked to identify three “trusted” and “not trusted” news sources, resulting in a trust ratio ranging from 0.00 to 1.00 representing the “trusted” count over total responses.
At Stacker, we ranked all 39 sources by this trust ratio and explored what makes these news sources stand out for their credibility (or lack thereof), including insights for each into the history and recent events that support or challenge their trustworthiness. You’ll discover which early news agency was initially founded as a pony express, which newspaper’s motto became “Democracy dies in darkness” in 2017, and finally which sources earned a perfect trust ratio from respondents.
Before you get started, the research driving this story warrants three notable caveats. First, the study was administered to the online readers of 28 local news sites from around the country; it is not a perfect depiction of national sentiment. Second, given the question was a free response rather than a comprehensive assessment of all news organizations, the trust ratio may reflect severe opinions of each news source with less consideration for more moderate views. Lastly, you’ll find that the categories range in specificity and are not mutually exclusive, including examples like “Trump,” “Local,” and the “Kansas City Star,” which shows that what's considered a news source can vary depending on the respondent.
#39. Occupy Democrats
Trust Ratio: 0.00
Designed as a left-wing response to the Tea Party, Occupy Democrats creates and aggregates online content engineered to give “people the ammunition to engage in meme warfare.” A BuzzFeed News analysis of partisan Facebook pages showed that 20% of Occupy Democrats articles were false or misleading, with the average post getting more than 10,000 shares.
Trust Ratio: 0.04
Building on lessons in content virality learned through his studies at MIT and co-founding Huffington Post, Buzzfeed CEO Jonah Peretti has built a global media powerhouse with a reach of over 9 billion content views each month.
While BuzzFeed’s low trust ratio could be tied to its early history of lifestyle “listicles”, the company has developed a strong news division for investigative and explanatory reporting under the leadership of Editor-in-Chief Ben Smith. BuzzFeed News challenged journalism convention when it released the controversial ‘Trump Dossier’ ten days before the 2017 inauguration, with Smith avidly defending the decision given the dossier’s circulation in senior government and media circles at the time.
Trust Ratio: 0.05
Breitbart was created in 2007 as a far-right news network and saw increased prominence during the 2016 presidential election. While founder Andrew Breitbart voiced criticism of Trump’s political leanings before passing away in 2012, the site emerged as an early and particularly vocal supporter of Donald Trump.
Breitbart’s executive chairman Steve Bannon became integral to the Trump campaign, transforming from advocate to campaign chief executive and eventually “White House Chief Strategist” before being ousted seven months into the new administration.
#36. Social Media
Trust Ratio: 0.05
Pew Research shows that 67% of U.S. adults report getting news from social media platforms, with Facebook leading the way as a news source for 45% of Americans, followed by YouTube (18%), Twitter (11%), and Instagram (7%).
In 2012, social media’s capacity to democratize communications and news delivery was touted throughout the Arab Spring movements, however, as new regimes come to power throughout the Middle East there has been a deeper questioning of the power of social media as a tool for both revolution and repression.
Meanwhile in the U.S., top platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Google have received criticism for struggling to limit the reach of fake news while maintaining an extremely influential role in the distribution and monetization of digital news content.
Trust Ratio: 0.09
Donald Trump has built a media platform focused on high-volume and unfiltered Twitter usage, circumventing traditional presidential communication channels while consistently disparaging news outlets as “fake news.” Recent studies by Pew Research show that 73% of U.S. adults believe the relationship between Trump and the media is hindering access to important political news.
Trust Ratio: 0.10
Alex Jones’ Infowars and radio show have achieved notoriety for promoting erroneous conspiracy theories that are avidly consumed by the alt-right. In addition to the media diet Jones provides for the radical right, Jones also peddles a slew of supplements to his fanbase to help fund his company.
Trust Ratio: 0.11
Yahoo is the highest-trafficked news and media portal in the world, syndicating content from agencies like Associated Press, Reuters, and AFP while producing its own share of stories. Under CEO Marissa Mayer, Yahoo invested heavily in its original content team and brought on former Time Editor-in-Chief Martha Nelson to bolster its digital magazines.
After several embattled years leading to Yahoo’s core business operations being valued at a negative, Verizon announced its intention to acquire the Yahoo business (excluding its sizeable Alibaba and Yahoo Japan stakes). The merger of Yahoo and AOL media properties into “Oath” was completed in June 2017, but not before revelations of an unprecedented hack of 3 billion Yahoo user accounts.
Trust Ratio: 0.18
The broadly defined “internet” category carries a trust ratio of 18%. Pew Research shows adults’ online news consumption grew from 38% to 43% in the last year, while television, radio, and print sources declined or remained flat. The 65+ age demographic has seen the biggest year-over-year increase in adopting the internet as a news source, rising from 20% to 30%.
#31. Huffington Post
Trust Ratio: 0.19
The Huffington Post reinforces the theme of media companies being created in response to other news organizations. The founding team of Arianna Huffington, Andrew Breitbart, Kenneth Lerer, and Jonah Peretti created HuffPost as a liberal alternative to the Drudge Report, though Breitbart and Peretti would eventually go on to build their own media organizations at Breitbart News Network and BuzzFeed, respectively.
Huffington Post employs a combination of in-house editorial and a massive contributor network of over 100,000 unpaid contributors, with the latter receiving a balance of praise for democratizing publishing but criticism as an unpaid editorial model. HuffPost was purchased by AOL in 2013 for $315 million before both were rolled up into Verizon in 2015.
Trust Ratio: 0.20
Conservative radio host Glenn Beck founded TheBlaze in 2010 to combat perceived biases in mainstream media outlets. Although revenue for Beck’s media group grew to $90 million in 2010, by 2017 TheBlaze cut nearly 30% of its staff amid diminishing revenue, legal suits, and general management woes.2018 All rights reserved.