Study: Slight majority see press as a key watchdog

Is it enough to help the 28 percent of recent journalism grads who wish they’d choose another career path, though?

There hasn’t been much to gloat about with the press these days, with everything from declining reader and viewer numbers, to plummeting ad sales and waning ethical standards, but is the public finally ready to stop its criticism and give the media a modicum of respect?

Amid a series of glum reports on the press, at least one recent survey is finding a silver lining in being a journalist today. The Pew Research Center found that a slight majority of the public continues to believe that the press acts as an important watchdog by ensuring politicians don’t stray from doing their jobs. In particular, the survey noted that recent government activities, including NSA surveillance and IRS issues, have slightly enhanced the press’s watchdog role.

Support for the media’s watchdog role has risen 10 points since 2011 even as other press ratings have shown little sign of improvement, the survey said. In another highlight, the survey found that younger people under 30 are as likely as older Americans to put importance on the press’s role in making sense of the deluge of available news and information.

Young people are also more likely than in 2011 to view journalists as important watchdogs.

Before we get too congratulatory of the press, Pew notes the public offers much more negative ratings of other aspects central to the press’s mission. In particular: 76 percent say news organizations tend to favor one side, and 75 percent say that they are influenced by powerful people and organizations. Far more people say news organizations focus on unimportant stories (65 percent) than on important ones (28 percent).

To emphasize the overall trend of the public’s negative view of the press, Pew notes that surveys since 1985 have consistently found that ratings of the press have been on the decline.

Even as the ink dries on the latest Pew survey, another survey was released by University of Georgia’s Grady College. The finding? About 28 percent of journalism grads wish they’d chosen another field.

Yet another recent survey showed that being a journalist still ranks near the bottom when compared with other professions and how they contribute to society. This Pew survey found that just 28 percent say journalists contribute “a lot” to society’s well-being, down from 38 percent in 2009. The public gives far better ratings to the contributions of the military (78 percent), teachers (72 percent), and doctors (66 percent).

Ask real journalists, and they will tell you that the profession and watchdog role are more of a calling than a career, but that calling might not be as loud as it once was.

USA Today columnist Rem Rieder reported on the latest Pew survey, saying:

“Watchdog reporting is critical not just in big, high-profile sagas but also in coverage of government at any level, down to the small-town city hall. The Pew poll, however, is no reason for news outlets to uncork the champagne. The public takes a pretty dim view of some aspects of press performance.”

Gil Rudawsky heads the crisis communication and issues management practice at GroundFloor Media in Denver. He is a former reporter and editor. Read his blog or contact him at


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