Only “sheep” trust journalists? How citizens’ self-perceptions shape their approach to news

Jacob L. Nelson, Seth C. Lewis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


The all-consuming nature of coronavirus news coverage has made the COVID-19 pandemic a unique opportunity to explore the relationship between audience trust in and engagement with news. This study examines that relationship through 60 Zoom-based qualitative interviews conducted with a diverse sample of US adults during the early phase of the pandemic. We find that how people approach the news stems not only from how they perceive the trustworthiness of individual news outlets, but also from their own self-perceptions. News consumers believe journalism generally suffers from issues of bias, but that they are savvy and independent-minded enough to see through those biases to find the truth. Putting the concept of partisan selective exposure into conversation with folk theories of news consumption, we conclude that people’s approach to and trust in news is as dependent on what they bring to the news as it is on what news brings to them.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1522-1541
Number of pages20
JournalNew Media and Society
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2023


  • Audiences
  • COVID-19
  • folk theories
  • journalism
  • news consumption
  • partisan selective exposure
  • qualitative interviews

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication
  • Sociology and Political Science


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