The trend of polarizing media outlets commenting on issues instead of covering them might be fueling the public’s lack of trust in journalism, which is reaching levels never seen before.
A Gallup survey conducted this month found a jaw-dropping 60 percent of the American public surveyed “have little or no trust in the mass media to report the news fully, accurately, and fairly.”
This lack of trust in traditional mass media, such as newspapers, radio, and TV, is up from the past few years, and up a full 5 percentage points from last year.
“The current gap between negative and positive views—20 percentage points—is by far the highest Gallup has recorded since it began regularly asking the question in the 1990s,” wrote Gallup’s Lymari Morales.
Some of the findings include:
• Trust in the media was much higher, and more positive than negative, in the years prior to 2004—as high as 72 percent when Gallup asked this question three times in the 1970s.
• Republicans continue to express the least trust in the media, while Democrats express the most. Independents’ trust fell below the majority level in 2004 and has continued to steadily decline.
Rob Reuteman, past president of the Society of Business Editors and Writers and Colorado State University adjunct journalism professor, faults the fact that traditional, objective mainstream media is being painted with the same broad brush as what he called the “advocacy media” that masquerades as being objective.
As examples, Reuteman said the unabashed advocacy on TV pits Fox News against MSNBC, and on the Web with The Huffington Post battling the Drudge Report.
“The degree of cheerleading that parades as news reporting is shocking even to a veteran journalist,” said Reuteman, who has three decades of experience in journalism. “I don’t blame people one bit for being this mistrustful, and true journalists will have to suffer the result.”
Without getting into specifics, Gallup said the media “must clearly do more to earn the trust of Americans,” and pointed out there’s an opportunity for others outside the mass media world to offer what journalist used to provide, fair, balanced, truthful reporting.
Gil Rudawsky is a former reporter and editor. He heads up the crisis communication and issues management practice at GroundFloor Media in Denver. Read his blog or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.