Journalist Maria Ressa and her whole team at the Philippines-based digital publication Rappler are held in high esteem by journalists across the world for their courageous reporting. The importance of their work was recognised when Ressa, along with Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2021.

Yet, when we in our research collect data for the Reuters Institute Digital News Report on the trust in individual news organisations, Rappler does not rank particularly high compared to other Philippine brands and a significant minority of Filipinos do not trust the news organisation.

Why is that?

Rappler is respected by many journalists for its investigative reporting, considered a digital trailblazer and relied upon for its debunking of misinformation and much more.

How can a news organisation such as Rappler be trusted by just 46% of our respondents in the Philippines and why might 32% say they do not trust it, when many brands that some journalists might see as less impressive do better?

I think of it as the cost of courage, and it reflects a pattern we see across many of the countries covered in the annual Reuters Institute Digital News Report, including India, where digital news sites such as The News Minute, The Quint, The Wire (and indeed do work that has much in common with that of Ressa and her team.

Rappler is not alone among the relatively recently launched digital news sites that do important, independent reporting that is widely respected by journalists internationally, but sometimes regarded with skepticism at home.

Similar patterns are visible elsewhere, from Animal Político in Mexico, La Silla Vacia in Colombia and OjoPúblico in Peru across the Americas, to 444 in Hungary and Denník N in Slovakia in Europe, to The Wire in India. The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism does not have brand-level trust data on and other Indian digital news sites.

While they have not (yet) won Noble Prizes, all of them are, like Rappler, ambitious digital news sites committed to uncompromising reporting but do not always have the kind of broad-based public trust their work might merit.

Our research suggests that a large part of the explanation is about political dynamics that impose a cost on those who have the courage to seek to hold power to account through independent reporting.

Politics matters because trust in news is about much more than the factual accuracy and the trustworthiness of an outlet’s journalism. It is also about how that work is interpreted in light of domestic politics and people’s partisan sympathies.

Especially in polarised countries where prominent politicians routinely attack the independent news media, and often orchestrate coordinated campaigns by their supporters and sometimes friendly influencers targeting individual journalists or outlets, it is not surprising that those who support these politicians are sceptical of independent outlets that seek to hold them to account.

In the Philippines, Rappler has done important, independent reporting on outgoing President Rodrigo Duterte and incoming President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. Some of those who support these powerful men will be skeptical of Rappler because its reporting casts politicians they like in an uncomfortable light.

Others might come across coordinated campaigns attacking independent news sites and journalists online, and let their views be influenced by this. Whereas outlets that are less aggressive in their independent reporting are more likely to be seen as inoffensive.

Many of the most broadly trusted news brands in our research are outlets such as the BBC that some criticise for being so vetted to ideals of impartiality that they risk collapsing into false balance.

In this sense, while journalists at Rappler and its kin across the globe – and the many journalists who admire them – understandably might find uneven levels of public trust in their work disappointing and frustrating, their work remains a major accomplishment.

Scepticism towards them in some corners and direct attacks on them from some politicians, is a direct reflection of how much of an impact their work has.

Their ability and willingness to continue to do it, even in the face of hostility and scepticism, should also be an inspiration for journalists around the world who might find themselves in a similar position, including editors and reporters in India.

It is clear that there are many costs to the courage that Ressa and her team displays, ranging from constant political attacks, threats offline and online, and legal harassment to limited trust from some of the public. This cost of courage can be seen clearly for a relatively younger digital site such as Rappler – and its kin in India.

But no one is exempt from these dynamics.

As political attacks on independent reporting ramp up across the world, and there is sometimes a tendency for people to primarily rely on news media that are aligned with, or at least do not challenge, their personal and political views, much older media organisations across the world might find themselves in a similar position. In fact some of the most well-known and respected newspapers in the world already do.

In our research, the trust profile of, for example, The Guardian in the United Kingdom, The New York Times in the United States, or El Mundo in Spain are not so different from that of Rappler in the Philippines or of The Wire in India.

Will established newspapers in India who have the courage to commit to continued independent coverage of those in power be able to avoid their fate and retain trust even among their partisan supporters?

Or will only those who cater to the majority, report he-said-she-said, or stay away from controversy and divisive issues altogether be able to maintain broad appeal?

The fact that Rappler in the Philippines – and other of its kin elsewhere – have a reach and trust profile similar to far older, more established and widely respected newspapers elsewhere might help us see their position in a different light. The cost of having the courage to stand up to the powers that be helps explain why Ressa and her team are not as widely trusted as they could be. That is, in a sense, disappointing.

At the same time, their courageous reporting, clear values, and embrace of digital media has also enabled them to build, in little over ten years, a news organisation that has a reach and a trust profile akin to that of centuries-old world-renowned newspapers. That is incredibly inspiring.

Journalists face the cost of courage and make some enemies when they, as Rappler does, seek truth and report it. But they also make friends, among journalists across the world – and in the public.

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen is Director of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism and Professor of Political Communication at the University of Oxford.