Media, Mistrust, and Marginalization: Case Studies from Philadelphia

While concern over a lack of "trust" in journalism is often associated with the current political moment, the concept of mistrust is not new. Examining the experiences of communities where distrust of the "mainstream media" is grounded in historical power dynamics may reveal insights into patterns of how publics adapt to meet their information needs, as well as lessons for journalists trying to understand what it means to be trusted and how they can respond.

This study seeks to understand how neighborhoods in the Philly metro area, with a range of relations to power and place and perceptions of ambiguity/threat, think about "trust" in media. It will draw from a series of focus groups, "story diaries," and interviews with residents of varied areas—expected to include a historically African American neighborhood grappling with issues of gentrification and development and a mostly-white suburb where nearly half of residents voted for Trump.

It will explore how residents decide how to assign trust to various outlets or personalities—and how they adapt and develop alternate verification strategies in situations where trust is in short supply. By seeking to establish an understanding of residents’ communication ecologies, storytelling networks, and attitudes towards media, this study seeks to establish a baseline to inform possible future interventions through applied media projects.

Concurrently, researchers will interview and informally shadow local media outlets potentially interested in following up on study findings. Findings will then be shared with community stakeholders and media in a series of community events which will double as brainstorming sessions to determine potential next steps. These steps may include collaborative, participatory, and/or solutions-oriented projects—depending on interests and priorities expressed by residents and media outlets.

Project lead: Andrea Wenzel

Team members: Marc Lamont Hill, Anthony Nadler, Melissa M. Valle

March 28, 2018