A report released this month shows that although most Americans believe the news media is important for democracy, there’s a partisan divide in Americans’ trust of the media.
The report, published by The Knight Foundation and Gallup, concludes that 33 percent of the public has a very or somewhat favorable view of the media, 23 percent are neutral, and 43 percent have a very or somewhat unfavorable view of the media.
More troubling is that confidence in the media is starkly different depending on one’s political affiliation, with 54 percent od Democrats having a favorable opinion and 68 percentage of Republicans having an unfavorable opinion. How did that happen, given that facts are firm, not fluid?
How We Got Here
A short explanation of how we got to this point is the Internet.
While technology has made sharing news and information much easier, it’s also made it possible to rapidly share misinformation or “fake news,” presenting both an opportunity and a challenge for the public and their faith in the media.
Today, 67 percent of American adults get all or most of their news from social media, which is also highly susceptible to fake news. Moreover, while 80 percent of Americans feel the news media are critical to our democracy, most also believe that knowing portrayal of false information as if it were true constitutes fake news. Interestingly, 40 percent of Republicans consider accurate news stories that cast a politician or a political group in a negative light always constitutes fake news.
Generally, perceptions of the news media are negative, and the perception of bias has increased sharply compared to a generation ago.
Today, 66 percent of Americans say most news media do not do a good job of separating fact from opinion and less than half (44 percent) say they can think of a news source that reports the news objectively.
Also, the media may have as much potential to reinforce existing views as they do to persuade, with most Americans claiming to rely on a mix of liberal and conservative news sources, but one in four admitting to getting news from only one perspective. Republicans who could name an accurate source of news overwhelmingly mentioned Fox News, while Democrats’ responses were more varied.
Responsibility for Credibility
At a January 23 Washington Post Live event, various members of the media as well as representatives of the sponsor companies dissected and discussed the research and potential solutions to address the mistrust in the media.
Jennifer Preston, vice president of Journalism for the Knight Foundation, called the scale of the problem with Americans' distrust in the media immense. “Polarization heightens the responsibility of journalists to do a better job in their communities,” noted Preston.
Another panelist, PBS NewsHour Anchor and Managing Editor Judy Woodruff, agreed and added that the media bears tremendous responsibility in the digital age. “Are we contributing to people getting a better understanding of what’s really going on and what’s right for them and their families?” she asked.
Veteran White House Reporter and Urban Radio Network Correspondent April D. Ryan said there’s no simple solution to changing perception and trust of the media, but added that integrity matters in securing credible sources for stories and reporting facts are vital to ensuring credibility.
In the age of information overload, Ryan advised that the media “bury them with facts,” and operate with integrity and accountability in reporting those facts.
Ryan remarked that finding credible sources for stories can be a challenge for members of the media, but there are ways to gain access to those people. “If you work with integrity and you’re accountable, people will find out and help you out,” Ryan said.
Integrity and accountability. Those are core principles of journalism and they must always be kept in mind by every journalist reporting the news today – especially in this age of distrust.
Stacy Fitzgerald is a Washington, DC area Gen Xer whose obsessions include politics, traveling and food and wine ventures. She is a regular contributor to Not Fake News.