Generation gap persists when judging news credibility

By Darin Watkins, Edward R. Murrow College of Communication

Erica-AustinPULLMAN, Wash. – Two decades ago, Washington State University researchers found a dramatic difference in how young and old judge news credibility. With the advent of online news delivery, that gap seems even more pronounced.

“Follow-up research continues to reveal a generational divide,” said Erica Austin, a researcher in WSU’s Edward R. Murrow College of Communication whose 1994 findings were published in the Journal of Mass Communication.

In 1994, Austin’s team found that younger people tend to judge credibility on news content, while older people are more influenced by the credibility of the story’s source.

Today, she said, that difference remains: “Younger test subjects seem more likely to base their decision about whether a story was fictitious on content, while older people seem more influenced by the source’s reputation.”

For example, a recent edition of Columbia Journalism Review reported on a study by the Associated Press and the American Press Institute about what makes people trust the news.

The findings show that only 12 percent of Americans trust news they see posted by a major brand – Facebook. And the study reveals new-tech details affecting how readers judge content credibility: the “number of ads around the content” and “how long it took for the story to download,” for example.

“The study sheds new light on why trust matters,” according to the AP/API researchers. “People who put a higher premium on trust-related factors are more engaged with news and are more likely to pay for it, install news apps or share and promote news with their friends.”