Media’s Credibility Continues Its Decline

A new poll by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press shows the media’s credibility is at its lowest level since the poll has been taken (1985). Skepticism about the truthfulness of the media is rampant.

The survey found that 63 percent of the respondents thought the information they get from the media was often off base. In Pew Research’s previous survey, in 2007, 53 percent of the people expressed that doubt about accuracy.

The AP points out that the poll didn’t differentiate between bloggers and broadcast and newspaper reporters. The obvious implication is that “the internet” may be a primary reason the numbers are so low. I may have missed it, but I don’t know of any bloggers who present themselves as news people. Most of blogging is commentary on the news, the newsmakers or the media and its handling of the news. While “new media” might suggest that bloggers are on a par with what is commonly referred to as the MainStream Media (MSM), it’s simply not true. Few if any bloggers claim to be “journalists” (but there are journalists who are bloggers).

AP then reports:

The Internet also has made it easier to research information and find errors in news stories, said Kathleen Carroll, the AP’s executive editor. And the Web’s discussion boards and community forums spread word of mistakes when they’re found.

Carroll hopes the increased scrutiny and accountability fostered by the Internet will lead to better journalism.

“We’re in the early stages of a changing relationship between news organizations and consumers, who are becoming much more vocal about what they like, what they don’t and what they want to know,” Carroll wrote in a statement. “It’s not always pretty or pleasant, but that engagement can and does help improve coverage.”

The “internet” isn’t some amorphous blob. The part of the “internet” which “increased scrutiny and accountability” is the blogosophere. And that underlines the way the roles have broken out in the media as a whole – something the “internet” and blogosophere now figure in prominently. The monopoly on what is news as well as how that news is reported has been irrevocably broken.

It is that which the MSM is dealing, and, in most cases, it isn’t dealing with it well.

When the price of publishing dropped to the cost the price of an internet connection fee, the monopoly was broken. No longer consigned to letters to the editor (which may never be published), the people were able to speak out in various forums, but primarily through blogs. The result has been pretty stunning. Now a much more dynamic and democratic group decides what is news and how it is covered. In many cases, the MSM has been forced to cover stories it has obviously tried to ignore.

That is most likely one of the primary reasons their credibility remains low. In 1985 about 55% believed newspapers and broadcasters generally got things right.

By 1999, the figure had fallen to 37 percent. The only time the Pew survey recorded a significant shift in the media’s favor was in November 2001, when 46 percent said they believed news stories were accurate. Dimock attributes the anomaly to the sense of goodwill that permeated the United States after the September 2001 terrorist attacks.

The most recent poll found just 29 percent believed news reports had the facts straight. (Eight percent said they didn’t know.)

Similarly, only 26 percent of the respondents said the press is careful to avoid bias. The figure was 36 percent in 1985.

As has been the case for years, television remains the most popular news source. The poll found 71 percent of people depend on TV for national and international news. Some 42 percent said they relied on the Internet, 33 percent turned to newspapers and 21 percent tuned into the radio. (The figures don’t add to up 100 percent because some people cited more than one medium.)

A decade ago, only 6 percent of the survey participants said they leaned on the Web for their national and international news while 42 percent relied on newspapers. (TV also led in 1999, at 82 percent).

If you read this carefully, you realize that the credibility problem for the MSM began well before the internet, seeing a slide from 55% in ’85 to 37% in ’99. ’99 is when the internet began to be a factor. But note that even then, only 6% said they used it for their news source. In 10 years that has grown to 42%, faster than any other source.

And what has the internet and blogs been most successful at doing? Fact checking the MSM and pointing to bias. That’s one reason only 26% now believe the MSM to be unbiased in their reporting.

Obviously the media world is changing, and as AP’s Carroll says, the MSM is still trying to come to grips with the change. What seems to finally be dawning on the MSM is the “new media” isn’t going to go away. In some cases they’ve been successful in co-opting various players. But with bars to entry as low as an internet account, there are always new players who will enter the “new media” market. The MSM may as well resign themselves that fact and step up their game (maybe they need 4 levels of editors) unless they want to continue to see their credibility shredded.

[Crossposted at QandO]

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