Although most scholars agree that media exposure affects political trust, it is unclear which kind of media contents do so and how these effects come about. Personalized media coverage is especially suspected of having negative effects on political trust. In our study, we empirically analyze the relationship between exposure to personalized media contents, general trust, trust in journalistic assessment and trust in politicians using a model of moderated mediation. This model is tested in an online experiment exposing subjects to media stimuli which portray political actors in an unpersonalized, an individualized or a privatized way. Results indicate that only privatized media coverage causes negative effects on trust in politicians. However, recipients with low levels of general trust are not affected by either treatment, while subjects with high general trust levels lose trust in politicians when being exposed to privatized contents. Moreover, effects of privatized stimuli are mediated by trust in journalistic assessment, indicating a spiral of mistrust towards public institutions.
©2016 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin Boston