Constructive Skepticism, Dysfunctional Cynicism? Skepticism and Cynicism Differently Determine Generalized Media Trust

Oliver Quiring, Marc Ziegele, Christian Schemer, Nikolaus Jackob, Ilka Jakobs, Tanjev Schultz


Although there is a growing body of research on trust in the media, it is still unclear whether any kind of critical attitude toward the media is harmful to democratic societies. Building on approaches on cynicism and skepticism, we argue that there is a need to differentiate between two distinct determinants of media trust. One is based on observed shortcomings, such as the tendency of news media to exaggerate negative aspects. Being aware of these shortcomings and benevolently criticizing the media can be interpreted as constructive skepticism. The second determinant relies on unsubstantiated claims such as assuming a conspiracy of the media and political actors. Such sweeping denunciation can be interpreted as dysfunctional cynicism. Based on survey data, we show that cynicism is associated with lower media trust and skepticism is associated with higher media trust. The results have strong implications for democratic societies and their way of treating different forms of media criticism.


media trust, media cynicism, media skepticism, political communication, journalism

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