Thursday, September 17, 2009

A contrarian view of Pew survey showing plummeting trust in accuracy of media

One of the first questions to the panel at the Saving the News meeting in Denver Wednesday night was about the public's lack of trust in journalism.

The question stemmed, at least in part, from the release of the latest survey by The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press showing that the press accuracy rating has hit a two-decade low.

Look, I understand why this is a concern for many. But I also think we should consider the changes in media that have occurred during this period. The more informed people are, in my view, the less they trust or believe the reports they read. And the Web makes it possible for people to be much more informed. People have so many choices for information today that they're in a position to judge mainstream news reports more critically. Is that all bad? I don't think so. Of course this doesn't mean news organizations shouldn't put an emphasis on accuracy. They should. And they should be open to criticism and respond to it. They should be transparent about how they wrestle with the difficult issues they have to deal with. So, yes, there's much that can be done to build public trust. And that work is essential for any individual organization. But at the same time, it might be good that readers are critical of journalists' work and treat it skeptically. Perhaps that will lead them to read more widely and to interact with journalists to pressure them to improve the quality of their work.

Scott Yates, who attended the meeting Wednesday night in Denver, pointed out something important to add to this post.

"You are on to something there, but I think the other part of the answer is that the 'media' has expanded to include crappy bloggers, more screaming blather on cable, etc., so the solid reporters get lumped into a pretty unsavory pile. Hence the number slippage."



32 comments:

  1. When I heard you say that at SaveTheNews last night, I thought, "There's a blog topic!" Glad you wrote it up.

    You are on to something there, but I think the other part of the answer is that the "media" has expanded to include crappy bloggers, more screaming blather on cable, etc., so the solid reporters get lumped into a pretty unsavory pile. Hence the number slippage.

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  2. Thanks for sharing this John. That's a really good point I hadn't thought about.

    To Scott's point though, I think average readers/viewers, though skeptical, can differentiate between quality reporting and noise -- even if the Pew survey doesn't.

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  3. The decline in the trust of media accuracy may be due to the media taking on aspects of blogging. Just In Time writing has surely increased the number of articles with factual errors, misspellings, juvenile style and unconscious biases.

    Perhaps someone could compare news stories from ten and twenty years ago, evaluating them for accuracy and reading level.

    There are fewer editors and fewer good writers doing more work. This is inevitably going to hurt quality.

    And with comments on newspaper articles now, savvy or bilious readers can vent their frustration about this word or that sentence. This undercuts a paper's authority.

    There's also a terrible habit that many readers have discovered.

    Some partisan think tank puts out a press release and a media outlet writes a story based around it. Even if responsible writers are at work and get other perspectives, often the source's desired framing of the issue succeeds.

    ProgressNow and Ethics Watch are two Colorado groups I consider good at manipulating the local media. The average reader doesn't know how they became players. He does know that these groups can set the agenda, but his own favorites can't.

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  4. Hi,
    here readers/viewers, though skeptical, can differentiate between quality reporting and noise -- even if the Pew survey doesn't.Good Work Keep it up.....

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  5. Hi Guy's,
    I think average readers/viewers, though skeptical, can differentiate between quality reporting and noise -- even if the Pew survey doesn't.

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