Poll: Most Say Trust in News Media Can Be Improved

Nearly two-thirds of survey respondents said it is better for society if people are skeptical of the media.

(AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

(CN) — While less than half of Americans say they have confidence in journalists, a new Pew Research Center survey found that three-quarters of U.S. adults are still open to having their trust in the media improve.

According to the findings released Monday, 52% of respondents have either little or no faith in journalists, compared to 48% who have either a fair or great deal of confidence.

The public’s trust, or lack thereof, comes from several places. While the survey found that 61% of Americans expected the news they get to be truthful, 69% thought that news organizations tried to hide or cover up their mistakes. Researchers found that the perceived reasons for those mistakes highlighted the varied types of mistrust that the public feels towards the media.

For example, 55% of respondents said careless reporting was a major factor behind mistakes in news stories, while 44% thought the mistakes can be attributed to a desire to mislead the public.

Seventy-two percent of those surveyed said news organizations do a poor job of disclosing where their money comes from and 80% think the news they receive is influenced at least partially by corporate and financial interests.

A perceived lack of transparency from news organizations was a theme that emerged in the research. The survey found that 55% of respondents think the media does an insufficient job of saying if a news story is opinion or factual, and 60% said the media does a bad job of disclosing conflicts of interests.

But it wasn’t all doom and gloom, as 63% said it is better for society if people are skeptical of the media, and 75% said they were open to improving their opinions of the media.

The research suggests that fostering personal connections with the audience would yield a greater trust in the news media. That is backed by a Pew study on local journalism last year, which found that those who held a strong personal tie with their news sources were much more likely to believe their news was accurate. This is juxtaposed with the finding in the latest survey that 57% of Americans believe their news outlets do not value them.

Being forthcoming about mistakes is another way to gain public trust, as 51% of respondents said seeing an official correction from a new outlet makes them more confident about that outlet. Only 12% said a correction would make them feel less confident.

Prior to the survey, which was conducted from Feb. 18 to March 2, Pew researchers held focus groups to help with the development of the poll. Monday’s report includes some quotes from participants in those focus groups.

“I like when they report something and get it wrong, they apologize for it and retract it. They say it out. We made a mistake, we reported this and it wasn’t true. Some don’t,” a 32-year old woman said.

The study also found that Americans’ ties to a specific news story was linked with their overall feelings towards the media. About two-thirds of people who felt personally connected to a story also thought that the news coverage was done well.

There is room for growth in that area. Only 36% of those surveyed felt loyal to their news sources, a decline from a 2016 Pew study that found 51% of readers and viewers felt loyalty to certain outlets.  

While the research found some hope for improving the media’s image in the eyes of the public, it also found that a deep political partisan viewpoint sharply influenced how people saw the media. For example, 60% of Republicans said media mistakes happen because of a desire to mislead the audience, whereas only 32% of Democrats felt that way.

“I don’t know. A lot of times they lie. To me, they lie a lot. And they don’t tell the truth when I watch them,” said a 53-year old female respondent who identified herself as a Republican.

On the other side of the aisle, six in 10 Democrats said the news media cares about doing a good job, whereas only 28% of Republicans agreed. Sixty-nine percent of Republicans said journalists do not care about the people they cover, compared to just 40% of Democrats.

In addition to the survey from February and March, the report also used additional data from a separate survey, which asked about the influence of corporate and financial interests and was conducted between Aug. 3 and 16.

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