Thursday, September 22, 2011

A Hate/Love Relationship

Do You Trust the Media?

When I came home at the end of my first semester in undergraduate school and informed my mother that I had changed my major from business to Oral Communications/Radio and Television, she was mortified.

“Oh no,” she cried! “You don’t want to do that. You’ll work nights, weekends, and holidays. You won’t have any time for family.” She didn’t know or didn’t mention the bad habits one might pick up in “the business”, but she was right about all of her misgivings.

At least at the beginning, I did have to work nights, weekends, and holidays and some of the other stuff too. Over time, if you survive, you get better hours grow out of the bad stuff.

One thing, however, she didn’t know about. She didn’t know that being a journalist might mean people wouldn’t like you, wouldn’t trust you, and might even avoid you.

That’s the continuing findings of Gallup polls. “The majority of Americans still do not have confidence in the mass media to report the news fully, accurately, and fairly. The 44% of Americans who have a great deal or fair amount of trust, and the 55% who have little or no trust remain among the most negative views Gallup has measured,” reads a September 22, 2011 news release. These poll results remain consistently low, varying little over the past decade.

At least journalists are doing better than Congress!

I maintain that there is less bias and more fairness at the local level than there is in the national media, particularly the cable channels. It may be those polarizing cable channels that skew the results of the Gallup poll.
This assertion is also backed by an analysis released Thursday, September 21, 2011 by the respected Pew Research Center.

“The public’s impressions of the national media may be influenced more by their opinions of cable news outlets than their views of other news sources, such as network or local TV news, newspapers or internet news outlets,” the report says. “When asked what first comes to mind when they think of ‘news organizations,’ most name a cable news outlet, with CNN and Fox News receiving the most mentions by far.” Pew has been tracking perceptions of the media since 1985.

Pew and Gallup go hand-in-hand on the issue of whether there is bias in the media. “The majority of Americans (60%) also continue to perceive bias, with 47% saying the media are too liberal and 13% saying they are too conservative, on par with what Gallup found last year. The percentage of Americans who say the media are "just about right" edged up to 36% this year but remains in the range Gallup has found historically,” the Gallup release reads.

“Just about right.” Woooooo-Whooooooooo. We’re getting a little better.

But, beauty is in the eye of the beholder:
“Partisans continue to perceive the media very differently. Seventy-five percent of Republicans and conservatives say the media are too liberal. Democrats and liberals lean more toward saying the media are "just about right," at 57% and 42%, respectively. Moderates and independents diverge, however, with 50% of independents saying the media are too liberal, and 50% of moderates saying they are just about right.”

According to Pew, 66% of Americans still get most of their news from television. Consider, however, more and more Americans, 43%, are getting their news information online or from their mobile devices. To borrow the title of a book on journalism criticism published decades ago, this is “News from Nowhere.”

Google is sifting our stories according to our preferences. We get email news links from the media we choose. Now, Facebook is looking at getting into the news business, tailoring our news feeds to our preferences. (It’s annoying enough that Facebook is now parsing our friends into different categories, but that’s a different subject for another day.)

Dr. Frank Newport, Gallup’s editor in chief told me that his organization is working toward gathering data regarding our use of things like iPads. “The next challenge is conducting surveys using text and smart phones, but we are not quite there yet.”

(Prime sources for this story may be found at and under “Politics”. Both organizations released their findings September 22, 2011.)

© Jim McNabb, 2011


Writeonbro said...

As a former news reporter I can honestly say that, it is an unreal expectation to fully trust sponsor supported news.

Writeonbro said...

I just ran across this commentary about a news story. That shows how slanted news can be.

jKermit said...

The term "news" baffles me sometimes. How can I discern the difference between reporting facts and gossiping? In print? Radio? TV? Facebook? Twitter? This world often has wolves clothed as sheep.

I don't mind bias so long as I agree with it....came to mind immediately. A little jab at myself there, yet I carry a lantern looking for THE man.

Good job, Jim.