The New News: How the Decline of Public Trust in Traditional News Media Affects the Rise of the Internet as a Mainstream Source for News

Open Access
Armington, Jill C
Area of Honors:
Bachelor of Arts
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Roger Kent Finke, Thesis Supervisor
  • Jeffery Todd Ulmer, Honors Advisor
  • traditional news media
  • levels of trust
  • Internet
  • news consumption
The news media has played an integral role in our democratic republic since its conception, often considered a “watchdog” on various institutions within our society. Yet while the American public once had high levels of trust in traditional forms of news media, like television broadcasts and newspapers, the past several decades have witnessed a steady decline of public trust in the press. As discontent with traditional news media grew, the Internet emerged as a new source of news and has recently witnessed a sharp rise in use for this purpose. Past research discusses two theories – the time displacement theory and the functional displacement theory – that suggest a relationship may exist between these two significant changes in the news media landscape. If novel forms of news media fulfill users’ needs that older media cannot, news consumers may supplement or even start to replace traditional sources with new ones. Using survey data measuring respondents’ perceptions of trustworthiness/accuracy and bias, this research tested whether or not high levels of distrust in traditional news organizations will lead to higher levels of usage of the Internet as a news source. Overall, the data consistently show a correlation between levels of trust and media usage. Even when controlling for gender and age, negative perceptions of news organizations’ trustworthiness/accuracy and bias tended to result in higher levels of respondents who solely relied on the Internet for their news. These results have interesting implications for the future of news media, as the public’s demand for credibility and trustworthiness has noticeable impacts on habits of news consumption.