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Older generations are more trusting of news media

If politics causes a divide in trust, so does age.

In general, regardless of party identification, younger adults are less likely to trust the news media than older adults.

But here again (though not on every metric), those numbers change if people are asked about the media they use most often.

There is not such a marked change, however, on the general trust question we used. For instance, 11 percent of people under age 40 say they trust the information they get from the news media “a lot,” about half as many as the 22 percent of people age 40 and older. But the number moves only slightly upward, to just 14 percent of those under 40, who feel a lot of trust with the media they use most often (it moves to 31 percent among those age 40 and older).

Age 39 and younger Age 40 and older
"The news media" 11% 22%
"The news media you use most often" 14% 31%

Data Source: Question: Thinking of [the news media/the news media you use most often] how much, if at all, do you trust the information you get?

Media Insight Project

On many other metrics of trust, however, familiarity appears to breed appreciation. As an example, 15 percent of those under age 40 feel “very well informed” by the media generally. That goes up to 23 percent if people are asked about the media they use most, a jump that is about commensurate with the increase for those age 40 and over (where it jumps from 30 percent to 40 percent).

While just 8 percent of those under age 40 feel the media are “very accurate” (75 percent say “somewhat accurate”), the “very accurate” number triples to 25 percent if people are asked about the media they use most often. That is still lower than the 40 percent of those age 40 and older who feel that way about their preferred media sources.

A quarter of those under age 40 feel the media deal fairly with all sides, but 43 percent feel that way about the media they use most, compared to 53 percent of those age 40 and over.

Interestingly, faith in the watchdog role of the media does not shift among younger adults when they think about the media they use most versus the media in general. The number stays at 28 percent. It moves only slightly, from 34 percent to 37 percent, among those age 40 and above.

Is the press too liberal, too conservative, or just about right? The majority of those under age 40 (53 percent) think it’s just about right among the media in general, about the same as those who are older (47 percent). And if they are asked about the media they use most often, the two age groups again are in sync. About two- thirds (69 percent of those under 40 and 68 percent of those age 40 and above) think the media they personally use are about right.

On a host of other trust metrics, people in different age groups like the media more when they are asked about the media they use most.

Do the news media care about the people they report on? While 17 percent of those under 40 think that of the press in general, the number more than doubles among this group, to 37 percent, if they are asked about the media they use most often. (It is 24 percent and 43 percent for those age 40 and above).

Age 39 and younger Age 40 and older
"The news media" 17% 24%
"The news media you use most often" 37% 43%

Data Source: Question: Here are some pairs of opposite phrases. Which phrase do you feel better describes [the news media/the news media you use most often]? Would you say [the news media/the news media you use most often]…

Media Insight Project

What about willingness to admit mistakes? Less than a quarter of those under 40 (22 percent) think the media in general admit their mistakes, while two-thirds think they try to cover them up. The numbers even out among people under 40 when asked about the media they use most often (39 percent and 40 percent). Among those age 40 and above, 30 percent think the media in general confess their sins and 53 percent think they cover them up; when asked about the news media they use most often, 53 percent think they admit mistakes, while just 27 percent think they don’t.

Is the press moral? Just 19 percent of those under 40 say yes about the media in general, a number that jumps to 47 percent when people are asked about the media they use. It also more than doubles among those 40 and above, from 27 percent to 57 percent.

Age 39 and younger Age 40 and older
"The news media" 19% 27%
"The news media you use most often" 47% 57%

Data Source: Question: Here are some pairs of opposite phrases. Which phrase do you feel better describes [the news media/the news media you use most often]? Would you say [the news media/the news media you use most often]…

Media Insight Project

And what about the press helping versus hurting democracy?

A third of those under 40 (33 percent) feel the press help, while a similar number (34 percent) of those age 40 and above feel that way. The numbers jump when people are asked about their own preferred media to 44 percent among those under age 40 and to 52 percent among those 40 and above.

Age 39 and younger Age 40 and older
"The news media" 33% 34%
"The news media you use most often" 44% 52%

Data Source: Question: Here are some pairs of opposite phrases. Which phrase do you feel better describes [the news media/the news media you use most often]? Would you say [the news media/the news media you use most often]…

Media Insight Project

Media sources by age

There are both similarities and differences in the media usage of younger and older adults.

In general, younger adults are more likely to cite digital sources and older adults turn more to television, but there is some overlap.

In all, 8 percent of adults 18 to 39 mention social media as one of the places they turn to for news most often (the question was open-ended), compared to just 1 percent of those age 40 and older. Similarly, 21 percent of adults 18 to 39 cite news websites as a favored news source, compared with 13 percent of those 40 and over.

When it comes to television, nearly half of all adults age 40 and over cite cable news as a major source of news (45 percent) while the number is closer to a third (35 percent) for people age 18 to 39.

Similarly, adults 40 and older are twice as likely as younger ones to report using broadcast television (34 percent vs. 17 percent).

In regard to specific outlets, adults 40 and older are more likely than younger ones to report using Fox (22 percent vs. 14 percent) and MSNBC (7 percent vs. 2 percent), while 23 percent of adults in each age group say they use CNN. Older adults are also more likely to use NBC (10 percent vs. 5 percent) and CBS (9 percent vs. 1 percent), while about 5 percent of both age groups use ABC.

Most used Second-most used Third-most used
Age 39 and younger CNN (23%) Fox News (14%) The New York Times (8%)
Age 40 and older CNN (23%) Fox News (22%) NBC (10%)

Media Insight Project

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