Networked journalism and online media: Reimagining trust for digital reporters

Trust in news media has steadily decreased over the past years as more and more people, professionals and politicians from all walks of life, settle into the 21sts century post-truth world (no wonder it was named Oxford Dictionary’s Word of the Year in 2016). In an environment where truth and credibility, essential for trust, are being eroded, the role of traditional journalists is being questioned. How, then, can journalists adapt and evolve their functions to suit a landscape where truth is prismatic? How should they develop when the infrastructure of journalism is increasingly digital?

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By Luka Avramović

Shifting landscapes and multiple discourses

The digital changes in the topography of journalism have, for better or worse, resulted from two essential shifts in how information circulates in society. One tectonic change shows in the amount and types of actors that engage in news reporting have massively increased due to the accessibility afforded by the Fourth Industrial (or Digital) Revolution. From non-governmental private companies, such as social media conglomerates Meta and Alphabet, to individuals with information power, like Julian Assange and Elon Musk, to everyday consumers like you and me, the new engagement paradigm is in full swing. For another, and leading on from the first, the sheer abundance of information being shared through different media and platforms has reinforced the plurality of discourse. Different sources, communities, filter bubbles, and political or personal biases shape what information appears, who is writing it, and where and why.

A question of (anti-)social media?

In a rapidly evolving technological landscape, the internet and social media have revolutionised how information is disseminated. However, this transformation does not necessarily translate to improved journalism.

With greater accessibility and connectivity for both citizens and reporters, concerns are mounting over the proliferation of biassed information. Recent pivotal examples are the COVID-19 pandemic, ongoing conflicts in Ukraine or in central Africa and elections worldwide (particularly in the USA and Türkiye – where the interplay between governments, private media companies, and individuals has increased political tensions across society). The surge in online news outlets and social media has further exacerbated the situation, providing a platform for individuals to disseminate biassed, misleading, or inaccurate information. Consequently, this will reach a wider audience, giving rise to a host of emerging issues in the media landscape, like disengagement or polarisation.

Recent trends in news consumption

Over the past year, trust in the news has experienced a notable decline, dropping by an additional 2 percentage points across various markets worldwide, according to Reuters 2023 Digital News Report. In many countries, this setback has undone the progress made during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, when trust in broadcast and paper news sources had witnessed an upswing.

Their research has also shown that users on rapidly popularising short-form platforms such as TikTok, Instagram, and Snapchat are notably more inclined to pay attention to updates from celebrities, influencers, and social media personalities rather than relying on professional journalists. In stark contrast, and counterintuitively, Facebook and Twitter maintain their status as platforms where news media, journalists and reporters remain central in shaping conversations.

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Three improvements any journalist should institute

In the quest to tackle trust issues between sources and journalists, the crux of the matter lies in the power balance. The powers at play are the selection of a plurality of sources or one absolute ‘truth’. In other words, do we recognise that there is no universal truth and seek to include diverse perspectives, or do we trust that there is a ubiquitous, truth that can be proved and reported on. Acknowledging this fundamental challenge, experts worldwide emphasise that journalists must take charge and adapt to the digital era. By embracing the online environment to their advantage, journalists can consolidate their position and credibility, thereby enhancing public trust in their work.

To achieve this end, journalists must think of information no longer as a product, but as a service that the news media should be responsible for delivering. With the abundance of interconnected information sources in today’s society, expecting reporters to single-handedly provide all-encompassing news coverage has become impractical. Instead, experts propose a shift in focus, emphasising journalists’ role as arbiters, curators, and information filters (Broersma & Graham, 2016; Beckett, 2018; Dahlgren, 2009). By becoming gatekeepers of trustworthy information, they can guide audiences through the sea of media confusion that characterises modern life.

Second, journalists might want to foster open discourse by providing contrarian opinions while removing themselves from the perceived role of absolute authority. Doing this, allows journalists or reporters to effectively and accessibly communicate knowledge while allowing room for healthy debate and critical examination.

Third, the dynamic power of so-called citizen journalists should not be underestimated. Journalists should see the increased involvement of members of the public gathering and spreading news and information as a tool, not as a constraint. At a time when many news organisations face staff cutbacks, citizen journalists have emerged as valuable contributors who play a crucial role in monitoring society using online resources and social media.


Amidst the ongoing mis- and dis- information crises, credible sources and information filtering emerge as a potent antidote, fostering a fresh perspective on information management within the field of news journalism. Good information and good journalism empower people through knowledge and allow individuals to make informed decisions. Emphasising the pivotal role of reliable news reporting, this approach bolsters the belief that trustworthy journalism remains integral to the fabric of society.


Beckett, C. (2018). The Paradox of Power for Journalism: Back to the Future of News [new book]. London School of Economics.

Broersma, M. & Graham, T. (2016). ‘Chapter 6: Tipping the Balance of Power: Social Media and the Transformation of Political Journalism’, in Burns, A. (ed.) The Routledge Companion to Social Media and Politics. New York: Routledge, pp. 89–103.

Dahlgren, P. (2009). Media and Political Engagement: Citizens, Communication and Democracy. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, pp. 172–181.

Newman, N., Fletcher, R., Eddy, K., Robertson, C. T., & Kleis Nielsen, R. (2023). Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2023. Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism.