Why Legacy Media Continue to Hold Top Online News Rankings Even As Readers Distrust Increases

The American media landscape has become an increasingly fragmented digital news environment. With news originating from a variety of sources – search engines, online media and social media platforms – it could be difficult for legacy media outlets to hold their ranking as the most viewed.

The global pandemic and a historic U.S. presidential election lead the news stream in 2020 and 2021, which created a record number of page views for big media brands.

However, as more readers consumed news, distrust for the media increased. According to a recent survey from Gallup, 60% of respondents said they had “little-to-no trust at all” in the media sources, while only 9% of respondents said they trust the mass media “a great deal.”  

With this heightened distrust in legacy media, where are readers going to find trustworthy news? The answer: Where they have always gone.  

Google news and legacy media outlets like CNN, Fox News, The New York Times and Yahoo! News continues to dominate as the most trafficked news sites according to the August rankings compiled by SimilarWeb. With the addition of The Drudge Report, The Washington Post, USA Today, CNBC.com and BuzzFeed, you’ve rounded out the top 10.

Legacy media brands continue to dominate the rankings with little to no variation in traffic patterns. An observer would conclude that the media brands are supplying a trusted product that users consistently find value in. However, that is not the case according to a recent survey.

The Pew organization found that between 2016 and June of 2021, that trust in the information from national news organizations fell from 76% to 58%. This statistic by itself is concerning, but why hasn’t the lack of trust resulted in a change of browsing habits? 

According to Bob McNaney, Emmy award-winning journalist and media crisis communication expert for Padilla, the answer lies in a dichotomy between fact and opinion. “Today’s news consumers don’t appear to be searching for facts,” McNaney said. “They are simply seeking news outlets which validate their opinions.”

This article was coauthored by John Scally

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