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Following Public Individuals for News in 7 Charts

Following Public Individuals for News in 7 Charts

Story Highlights

  • Nearly nine in 10 Americans follow public individuals for news and information
  • TV journalists and hosts of shows are the most popular individuals followed
  • Public individuals broadly liked, trusted for non-mainstream perspectives

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- In 2022, the highest percentage of Americans in 50 years of Gallup tracking reported no confidence at all in the news media. This aligns with growing public distrust in a wide variety of U.S. institutions.

Gallup’s research with Knight Foundation over the past five years has revealed the drivers and barriers of trusting the news and has quantified the depth of Americans’ negative feelings about the news today. When the trends hit a low point, is all hope lost?

A new Gallup/Knight Foundation study finds that many Americans regularly turn to individuals with public platforms for news and information. These individuals include celebrities, journalists, academic experts, TV show hosts, online influencers and business leaders. The top two reasons given for following these individuals are: personality and trust.

Here are seven charts summarizing the extent to which Americans turn to “public individuals” for news and information, and why they follow them.

1. Public individuals are a significant part of Americans’ news diet.

Nearly nine in 10 Americans follow at least one public individual for news and information. Scientists or other experts, politicians and journalists are among the most frequently followed. Although the most common type of information Americans say they get from public individuals is commentary and analysis, 61% get at least some of their news and current events from these individuals.


2. The influence of individuals is not just a social media phenomenon.

Only 16% of Americans follow social media influencers specifically for information. And while 51% of Americans say they follow all kinds of public individuals for news and information on social media platforms, the two most common mediums for following are television (63%) and newspapers (62%).


3. Trust ‘the news’ for news; trust public individuals to make sense of it.

When forced to choose between news outlets and public individuals they follow, 68% of Americans say they trust news organizations more on reporting of news and current events. However, the public is nearly split on who they trust more to provide commentary and analysis on news or political and social issues. Public individuals are most trusted for non-news information related to hobbies, work and life.


4. TV journalists and program hosts are the most popular.

The 89% of Americans who report following at least one public individual were asked to say who, in particular, they watch or follow most often. The typed responses from roughly 2,800 respondents included the names of more than 900 unique individuals -- ranging from journalists and politicians to celebrities, religious leaders and individual TikTok accounts. No single name dominates.

This shows the diversity of the public individuals whom Americans turn to for news and information. In fact, the top two most frequently cited names account for only about 6% of all respondents in the study. That said, most of the 10 most-followed individuals are cable news entertainment hosts, with a few news anchors rounding out the list.


5. Likability and trust drive Americans toward their favorite public individuals.

Americans follow their favorite public individual for news and information because they like their personality (80%) and trust the individual (79%). More than seven in 10 Americans also say they turn to their top public individual for “a perspective I can’t find in traditional news outlets.” Being entertained also tops the list.


6. For older Americans, trust and brand familiarity matter more.

Trust and personality are among the top reasons Americans of all generational groups give for following a public individual. For older generations, however, part of trust in the individual has to do with trust in the organization the public individual works for. This is much less the case among younger generations. Generation Z adults, in particular, care more than older generations about getting a different perspective than their own that may be outside of traditional news outlet reporting. Gen Z and millennials are also much more likely than older generations to value entertainment from their most followed public individual.


7. Partisans are looking to public individuals who represent people like themselves and their ideas.

Compared with political independents, Democrats and Republicans turn more to their top public individual for information because “they represent people like me” and “their beliefs and opinions align with my own.” Additionally, 86% of Republicans, a higher percentage than among Democrats and independents, report that their favorite person offers a perspective not found in traditional news sources -- yet majorities of Democrats (67%) and independents (74%) say so as well.

Republicans are 10 percentage points more likely than Democrats and 18 points more likely than independents to say they follow this individual because they work for a company or organization they trust.


Bottom Line

Most Americans follow at least one public individual to get news or commentary on political and social issues. The public individuals Americans turn to most often are seen by their followers as likable, trustworthy and offering perspectives beyond mainstream news. That said, many of the most popular public individuals -- journalists, TV show hosts, experts and industry leaders -- work within the news industry. In an era of widespread institutional distrust, the power of individuals with wide-reaching platforms and loyal audiences is more potent than ever.

Read more insights from this study.

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