In national polls, Americans have been increasingly distrustful of media as of late. However, people are more likely to have trust in local media sources compared to national ones. Given this, how much do rural Nebraskans trust various information sources? Has this changed during the past four years?
The 2021 Poll looked at rural Nebraskans’ trust in various information sources. Respondents rated how much they trust 16 sources of information. The same question was asked in 2017 (though some of the specific sources listed were changed).
This year, rural Nebraskans most trust information received from friends/family/acquaintances, local news sources (TV and newspapers), and public sources (PBS and public radio). They least trust information from social networking sites, Internet blogs, MSNBC and CNN. Three-quarters of rural Nebraskans (75%) trust information from their friends, family or acquaintances either some or a lot. Seven in 10 trust information from their local newspaper either some or a lot. At least one-half of rural Nebraskans do not trust at all information received from the following sources: CNN (55%), MSNBC (55%), social networking sites (54%) and Internet news blogs (53%).
How has this level of trust changed in the past four years? Rural Nebraskans are less trusting of many information sources than they were in 2017. While the proportion of rural Nebraskans who trust a lot the information they get from some of the sources listed remained about the same, the following sources had significant declines from 2017: local TV news, local newspapers, state newspapers, Fox News, public radio, and national newspapers. The proportion trusting local TV news a lot declined from 27% in 2017 to 15% this year. Those who trust local newspapers a lot declined from 25% to 16% and the proportion trusting state newspapers a lot declined from 17% to 8%. These findings mirror the national trends — of declining trust across many sources of information as well as overall greater trust in local sources as compared to national ones.
One possible explanation of the decline in trust in local sources (local newspapers and local TV news) is the increasing loss of coverage of rural areas. A Pew Research study found that most rural residents say their local news media mostly covers another area instead of the area where they live. This is especially true of TV news stations that are only located in micropolitan or metropolitan areas. And many rural Nebraskans get local TV news from neighboring states (such as Iowa or Colorado).
Similarly, the state has seen a loss or consolidation of local newspapers. According to the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media’s Expanding News Desert database, Nebraska saw a 9% decline in the number of newspapers between 2004 and 2019. This database also reports that Nebraska has eight counties without a newspaper and 43 counties with a single newspaper. This leads to a loss in journalists who are personally engaged in the community, a factor that the Pew study found all residents desired.
Even with this decline in the trust of local information sources, most rural Nebraskans still say they trust the information from both local newspapers and local TV news “some” or “a lot.” Rural residents need local media that can highlight issues and news from their local area. And prior studies have shown a relationship between consumption of community news or information and civic engagement. Thus, if local media can regain some of this lost trust, Nebraska communities will likely reap the benefits.
For more about the Nebraska Rural Poll, visit ruralpoll.unl.edu.