by Brooke Medina
Vice President of Communications, John Locke Foundation
Generation Z, those born between 1997 and 2012, are less likely than Boomers and Gen X, to trust news channels like Fox News and CNN. However, they’re twice as likely to trust international news sources such as BBC and Al Jazeera than Boomers.
The way Americans consume media falls along the dividing line between digital native and digital migrant. Digital natives are those younger adults who have had access to the internet ever since they can remember. They have no clue what it’s like to be charged for AOL by the minute or remember a time when Macs were referred to as Macintosh computers. Digital migrants are those who recall things like phone books, landlines, and actual card catalogues at the library.
Visual Capitalist, one of my favorite sites for easy-to-read, relevant data, recently released findings from the Knight Foundation, looking at how Boomers, Gen X, Millennials and Gen Z consumed media during the pandemic. If you follow the link, you’ll see a fascinating breakdown of media type (podcasts, video games, online videos, broadcast tv, etc.) and how each generation prefers to engage with these distribution methods.
But, I want to zero in on how each generation views the trustworthiness of each type of news source. We know that America is facing a crisis of institutional trust across the board, but it is probably nowhere quite as evident as when we look at public trust of both government and the media. “Fake news” isn’t just some mantra millions of Americans say because they’re parroting former President Trump. With the democratization of media and the unabashed bias in many legacy news outlets, Americans are right to be wary of where they get their information. Also, I’d argue that, “Trust, but verify” is always a smart motto to live by.
As you can see, there are plenty of points of agreement among the generations. There aren’t huge disparities among younger and older Americans when it comes to their trust of U.S. government websites or scientific articles, although we do see a bit of a dip among Gen X on this front. Perhaps it’s because they were the generation who had to put up with that crazy food pyramid the longest. I’d be super skeptical of science, too! Give me my fatty avocado.
We, do, however, see differences when it comes to perceived trustworthiness among other sources. Gen Z is 11 points less likely to trust news channels than Gen X. The former is also 11 points more likely to trust the World Health Organization than their Gen X parents. Frankly, Gen X just seems pretty darn skeptical all the way around except for legacy broadcast tv. Perhaps it’s all the happy memories they have of MTV and VH1 on cable news.
Finally, there’s no surprise that the younger an American is, the more likely they are to trust news shared on social media. Gen Z’ers are four times more likely than Boomers to express confidence that what they read or watch on social media is true.
What about you? How would you rank these various news sources in terms of trustworthiness?
I recently joined a panel to examine the topic of Americans’ news consumption. We delve into trustworthiness, as well as a number of other facets related to our relationship with the media. Donna Martinez moderates an engaging and thoughtful panel, called the Shaftesbury Society, each Monday. You can watch my reply to her question, “What are you watching in both new and old media right now?” here: