Big group hug (and some bewilderment)

I read this last week, and I instantly needed a hug.

Record numbers of Americans consider the news media to be “immoral,” “inaccurate,” and “biased,” a new poll says.

A plurality of Americans, 42 percent, said that the press was “immoral,” compared with 38 percent who viewed the news media as “moral” — a record high.

Now you need a hug, too.

Fortunately, the depressing news about how people feel about The Media changes when asked about their main source of information. People have a much higher level of trust and a perception of greater accuracy.

So what do you think is going on here?

Read the two pieces I’ve hyper-linked (above), because I really really want to know what you think.

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16 Responses to Big group hug (and some bewilderment)

  1. Alison Matas says:

    I think some of the distrust of media in general comes from the fact that reporters aren’t always transparent about how they’re getting their information. As journalists, we frequently assume that our readers understand how journalism works, but that isn’t true. In my opinion, it would be helpful to explain the reporting process to readers and try to be more open about methods we use. That makes me wonder if the reason people trust their usual media source more is because they read it frequently and consequently are more familiar with the sources that are included in the stories, the style of writing and the reporting process.

    In terms of bias, I think it’s not surprising there’s a liberal bias to journalism. The role journalists play in a society is fundamentally liberal, even if not necessarily politically. Acting as a watchdog and a voice for the voiceless lends itself to a liberal mentality.

    • schacht99 says:

      Here’s a 2004 gallup poll that lists professions in order of how much the public trusts them: http://www.ama-assn.org/amednews/2005/01/03/prca0103.htm

      According to website, nurses have been the most trusted profession for five the past six years (as of 2005), followed by grade school teachers and pharmacists.

      Journalists occupy the bottom third of the least trusted professions, and they have a slightly higher trust rating than business executives, congressmen and lawyers.

    • pgt7d8 says:

      Maybe we need a “DVD Extras” type feature attached to every story. Filmmakers have combatted illegal piracy by value-adding to their traditional products, maybe papers need behind the scenes style content to survive?

  2. While not all the statistics presented are encouraging, I do feel optimistic that “nearly seven-in-ten people say they have a lot or some trust in information they get from local news organizations.” (http://www.consumeraffairs.com/news04/2011/09/consumers-find-their-source-of-news-reliable.html) To me, this makes a lot of sense. I think the closer reporters can be to the people they are writing about and for, the better they will do.

    I just finished writing a grueling life story. Not only did I interview the two sons of the deceased man, but I spoke to six of his co-workers. Initially, I called one colleague for an interview and he passed my number on to the other five people. They each had a memory or a comment that they wanted to share. It took a good part of my day to put the story together and am I happy with the result. When I shared the story the sons, they were impressed with the depth and length of the story. They said all the other news outlets had just printed a short obituary. I think the care the Missourian puts into the lives, and deaths, of mid-Missouri’s citizens is an example of why the public seems to trust local news organizations.

  3. Haoyun Su says:

    Well, it doesn’t surprise me that “seven-in-ten” still trust their local news organizations while fewer people trust news media in general. It might be much easier for people to verify the information in the case of local news and decide whether the local news agencies deserve their trust.
    In terms of “mistrust towards news media is at a record high”, this actually reminds me of what I learned from mass media seminar – the gatekeeping theory. Apparently, more people are aware of gatekeepers – they might not know the definition of “gatekeeping”, but they might learn from immoral cases (such as “phone hacking scandal of Rupert Murdoch’s news empire”) that news agencies are sometimes “dirty”.
    Since information is more transparent and accessible today, this kind of scandals have a wider range of audience than before. With more cases got known by people in the past decades, it’s easier for them to get the impression that “the whole news industry is more immoral than before”.
    To me, it’s an interesting phenomenon.

  4. Julia Boudreau says:

    I think that the first article, while it is true in some parts for its portrayal of how people view the media, I think we also need to take into account when reading it that people can be influenced by group thought and other things happening in the world when viewing the news. During times of prosperity and wealth people may view the news as a community builder and accurate but during times of turmoil or recession, the news can be viewed as the bad messenger that seems to only depress and upset peoples lives/world view. The second article shows that when the media becomes a personal connection it may be viewed as more informative instead of disadvantaging.

    • Kip Hill says:

      The Pew Research also throws a ton of figures about attitudes toward the media at you without providing any type of context about the shifting values of the electorate. If the media has maintained their liberal bias into the 21st Century (and I think you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone in academia that doesn’t believe this to be true), it would make sense that public trust of them has declined, seeing as how this country has gone through a massive shift in terms of social and fiscal conservatism since the early 2000s (http://bigjournalism.com/gknapp/2010/04/20/new-pew-study-shows-americans-growing-more-conservative-even-the-ny-times/).

      Is the news “silo” a problem? I’m not sure I unequivocally agree. I would go further than Alison’s statement above and say that it’s incumbent upon journalists, in this day and age of partisan reporting, to reveal their subjective biases on political issues. Philosophically, I would argue that it’s possible to divulge the vested interests and perspective s that we have to our readers, in addition to our methods, and still pursue a level of professional objectivity that upholds the key values we say we hold dear. That might put me in the minority, but I certainly think that approach is better than what we’re doing now, because clearly consumers of news are not responding positively to this “hide the influence” game we’ve been playing online for the better part of a decade now.

  5. Vandrelyst says:

    In response to the gallup poll that shows that Journalists are only slightly more trusted than lawyers and businessmen, and not trusted nearly as much as are nurses or grade school teachers… am I in the minority in thinking that this is okay? Obviously we want to play nice as much as we can, and when it comes to nice little stories about nice little people, sometimes that can be very nice indeed. But I don’t see the need to trust journalists as much as I trust nurses (with my health) or grade school teachers (with my children), and sometimes we do ask sensitive questions, press from different angles, etc, as we try to get to the root of various issues… and people need to be somewhat wary of that especially when its part of their job to monitor exactly what the press does and doesn’t know. It wouldn’t make sense for them to trust those journalists as much as they trust their kindergartner’s teachers, and I think that’s okay.

    In regards to the original articles, I think its encouraging that people trust their local media more than media in general. Media in general comprises a huge variety of outlets which are trustworthy to greatly varying degrees. It would be foolish to trust all of them equally. Its also easy to fear and mistrust what you don’t know much about – and no one can fully understand the full spectrum of media sources. (A silly example is that plenty of people might be nervous around dogs… especially unfamiliar dogs that run towards them. In fact, it would be foolish to trust all dogs blindly. However, these same people might have their own dog, which they trust absolutely.) The fact that people trust their local media much more should be encouraging – it means that when they are actually getting familiar with a source, they see that it’s not so bad as they might have thought – that local media sources are succeeding at winning over the trust of their audiences.

  6. I think we, as journalists, need to zoom out a little bit and look at the bigger picture of public opinion. Why are we the only professional group out there obsessing over the public’s perception of us? If the Pew Research Center were to conduct a study (and maybe they have) on the public’s perception of the profession of lawyers and doctors, would the results be that different? If anything, they might be worse.

    I think there is a tendency in people, when asked to evaluate large professional groups that they depend on for a certain service, to focus on the lowest common denominator–that is, the worst of those practicing in the field.

    And I think it’s therefore very telling that when forced to look a specific source–such as your own hometown paper–people’s opinions soften. In the same way, people would be more generous in their rating of their own family physician or lawyer than they would be of the profession as a whole.

    And so the real question is, if the lawyers and doctors aren’t sweating over public opinion, why are journalists? Maybe it’s because we depend a little bit more on the public’s perception of us for a livelihood, but if they are still coming to us for their news (just as they will continue to seek out lawyers and doctors for those services), how much do opinion polls like this matter?

  7. emilyg87 says:

    Sorry, I was logged in under the wrong blog! This is Emily Garnett’s response to the articles, not MuddyBootsNews, for the record…

  8. Carlos D. Navarro says:

    As most of my classmates have already pointed out, I believe that beyond the discouraging statistics (the ones that make every one of us need a hug), we should focus on the positive conclusions that can be reached from them. I find the ones that refer to poeple’s trust in their local media outlets both encouraging and puzzling all the time.

    On the one hand, people seem to trust what they are more familiar with, so it only makes sense for them to feel their local newspaper gets its facts straight. I just wonder where exactly citizens believe all goes wrong and end up thinking that the media as a whole is just a gigantic partisan (or should I say, liberal) apparatus which seems to make every effort to basically hide the truth from them. Where do people in this country draw the line between good professional local journalism and biased national journalism?

    I mean, after all, aren’t most media outlets (including my trusted local newspaper) supposed to adhere to more less the same professional standards of objectivity? Aren’t they all part of the big system of American journalism, the very one that has led the way around the world, in terms of professional values?

    Don’t get me wrong, I know that generalizations like the one above are almost always a bad call to make, but I just wonder why people seem to neglect the deep level at which most media sources in this country are bound together: values. There are a couple of famous (or, rather, infamous) cases which exemplify blatant deviations from professional ethic, but in the end, I think I would not be studying journalism if I believed that ultimately, the media as a whole, as an apparatus, should not be trusted. It just makes no sense to me.

    To put it in a metaphorical way (which I feel inspired to do after some of my peers’ fantastic comparisons), how can you say you like one slice of the pizza but hate the pizza as a whole?

    • Kip Hill says:

      Carlos,
      If you’re interested in this subject as a whole, might I recommend some data that suggest Americans’ civic engagement and trust are on the decline? I believe a lot of this distrust of the national media is a reflection of individuation of the American public as a whole; for instance, survey research has indicated that Americans simply do not trust their neighbors or people in their community as much as they once did, and for strangers, the number has suffered an even more precipitous decline.

      I would recommend the work of Robert Putnam (http://www.amazon.com/Bowling-Alone-Collapse-American-Community/dp/0743203046/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1317139230&sr=8-1) if you’re interested in this phenomenon. His book “Bowling Alone” is essentially a wide-sweeping look at the decline of civic engagement among Americans for the past fifty years. Interestingly, he blames television as the grandest perpetrator in achieving this effect. His most recent work on the subject was published in 2000, keeping him from really examining the effect of the Internet on this phenomenon, though others have taken up the mantle in the interim.

      I would argue this mistrust of strangers and those in the community has manifested itself in the numbers offered by the Pew Report, as I indicated above. I also think it’s significant that the poll itself was conducted during the last week of July, when the debt ceiling debate was in full swing. I don’t want to give journalists a free pass here, because as Katherine said, we should be concerned by the numbers. But I’m not really panicking, either. I think much of this data is a reflection of mistrust with government in general that is pushed off on journalists who are trying to cover a highly partisan body politic and citizenry in accordance with ethical norms that can’t possibly reflect the nuanced nature of today’s media and political culture. I should probably have thrown a comma in that sentence.

      • Carlos D. Navarro says:

        Thanks a lot, Kip! I had a vague recollection of the title and the author. I’ll get and see what answers I can find in it. Gracias!

  9. pgt7d8 says:

    I dunno if you guys have read Hallin, but the discussion in class re: objectivity reminded me of something I read in a journalism class back in Australia.
    Hallin, D.C (1986) “The ‘Uncensored War’: the Media and Vietnam” Berkeley: University of California Press.
    I’m sure you can find his stuff on google scholar or whatever, but even old mate wikipedia has a simplified version of his ideas.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hallin's_spheres

    Basically Hallin divides news into three “spheres”, each one requiring a different level of objectivity from journalists depending on subject matter. Given the publish date some of the ideas are obviously a bit outdated but in general it’s pretty relevant.

  10. keliza13 says:

    I think I prefer to think that everyone’s just jumping on the bandwagon to say the press is “immoral.” It’s a lot easier to group with the masses in defaming something because it seems right (thank Jon Stewart for pointing out just how messed up our broadcast news is in America) than it is to stand up for something that’s sadly become a joke to a few very VERY outspoken people.
    PS: I actually like Jon Stewart quite a bit.

  11. asussell1 says:

    I do not expect the public to suddenly stop believing the media is “untruthful” or “biased,” but I hope readers begin to understand there is no single truth. Yes, reporting incorrect facts is untruthful, but the definition of “untruthful” is still up for debate. Three reporters could cover the same news story and all of their stories would be different. They might have talked to different sources and seen different things. It is impossible to report everything about an event. We, as reporters, are only human.

    I think if the public could realize news and “truth” are not so clear-cut, they might be a little more sympathetic.

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