Point, counterpoint: the state of the American media, the lack of trust, what to do

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Point: “Americans’ trust in the media is shattered; here’s how to fix it

By Carrie Sheffield

Americans’ trust in the national news media is low and getting worse. Mainstream journalism has lost the respect of much of the public, although soul-searching and industry changes could reverse this trend.

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A new study from the Media Insight Project funded by The Associated Press and the University of Chicago has found that the core values ​​of journalism are less respected by large parts of the general public than other competing moral values. For example, the study reported that “people who place more emphasis on authority and loyalty tend to be more skeptical of the fundamentals of journalism.” Just 11% of Americans fully support the five journalistic values ​​tested. The study advises journalists to rethink how they frame their content to better reach a wider audience.

This new study comes as no surprise to conservatives like me. A Gallup public opinion survey of Americans’ trust in institutions released at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic found that eight of the nine institutions surveyed received mostly positive ratings – led by US hospitals, with an endorsement from 88%. The media ranked dead last, and only the media received more negative than positive ratings.

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Tracing the fall in media reputation, Gallup editor Mohamed Younis told me that Gallup polls around the time of President Richard Nixon’s impeachment showed that 70% of Americans trusted the media honesty, but today only 40% of Americans say the same. Gallup tracked a general drop in confidence, but the decline is more pronounced among Republicans. During our conversation, Younis said that 41% of independents approved of the work of the media during the COVID-19 crisis, compared to 68% of Democrats but only 16% of Republicans.

A 2018 poll by Monmouth University found that 77% of Americans believe mainstream media publish fake news, an increase from 2017, when 63% of respondents said the same. Journalists would be well advised to understand that 65% of Americans, according to Monmouth, said fake news applies to how the media makes editorial decisions, while only 25% said fake news applies. only to media disseminating inaccurate information.

This means that the term “fake news” is a much broader concept for most Americans than just misstatement of facts – it has to do with newsrooms’ value judgments about what to publish and broadcast. . Conservatives often feel like the media refuses to give full context and equal representation of conservative people and ideas – that’s what a lot of people mean when they say ‘fake news’.

In 2020, Monmouth also found that 76% of Republicans believed the social media giants – which give news outlets millions of dollars to create content and are largely responsible for getting stories across the news media. – could be held liable for bias in the management of user content. The study found that then-President Donald Trump’s executive order to examine how social media sites could be held liable for bias was supported by 46% of independents and just 16% of Democrats. This wide gap in how Republicans and Democrats perceive social media bias suggests news outlets should think carefully about how their partnerships with tech companies cause certain audiences to feel unfairly treated.

Some of the media value discrepancies can be explained by data from Pew Research, which in 2004 surveyed more than 500 journalists and editors. He revealed that 34% of people in the national media identified themselves as liberal, but only 7% as conservative. This contrasted with the 20% of the general public who described themselves as liberal and 33% as conservative. A 2014 survey by Indiana University found that only 7.1% of journalists identified as Republicans, but 28.1% identified as Democrats. Are most journalists aware of this unbalanced worldview in their ranks?

Part of journalists’ blind spots could stem from what another Pew study found: Americans in the Midwest and South — who generally have more conservative social mores — are severely underrepresented in online journalism. Pew’s analysis of US Census Bureau data found that workers in the South make up 37% of all American workers, but only 21% of workers in publishing and Internet news delivery. And workers in the Midwest make up 22% of the overall American workforce, but only 10% of online journalists.

Beyond the digital newsroom more generally, one in five American newsroom workers live in New York, Los Angeles, or Washington, D.C., but those three cities are home to just 13% of all American workers. according to Pew.

Progressives in the media these days talk about “equity” and “inclusion,” but the question is whether they will include better ideological diversity in their work in the future. America’s national unity depends on it.

Carrie Sheffield is a visiting scholar at the Independent Women’s Forum. She wrote this for InsideSources.

Counterpoint: “The way to restore journalism as a pillar of our democracy

By Yosef Getachew and Jonathan Walter

Dorothy Butler Gilliam, the Washington Post’s first black female reporter, said in 2019, “When reporters are called ‘enemies of the people,’ and black female reporters and other reporters are insulted and treated with such disrespect. , I think it’s so important to remind people of the importance of the media.”

Strong and quality journalism, especially at the local level, is undoubtedly essential to the proper functioning of a democracy. It supports civic engagement and provides communities with vital information on issues such as health care, public safety and economic development. Journalism provides the tools for a well-informed public and sustainable self-reliance.

Unfortunately, journalism today is unable to meet the civic information needs of communities across our country. That’s not particularly surprising given that journalism has been facing decline for years. Waves of media consolidation have led newspapers to lay off nearly half of their staff since 2008. Hedge funds, which hold majority stakes in local and regional newspapers across the country, have implemented cutback strategies costs that have significantly reduced newsrooms. Thousands of communities now live in information deserts – places with little or no access to local information.

Despite the diversity that makes up our nation’s communities, there are still significant gaps in the news covered by the media and the issues presented as part of our civic discourse. This is directly related to the abysmal rates at which women and people of color own broadcast stations. A media ecosystem where women and people of color are not present in programming, newsroom jobs, and ownership rates cannot truly capture the needs and interests of all communities.

Infotainment has also diminished the quality of journalism today. Take, for example, media coverage of Donald Trump’s 2016 candidacy. Modern journalism’s emphasis on “horse racing coverage” rather than thematic reporting allowed then-candidate Trump to receive nearly $2 billion in free media. At least one executive has claimed that Trump’s constant coverage pays off for his media company. In many cases, excessive media commercialization has replaced in-depth investigative journalism.

Fortunately, there are solutions to revitalize journalism to meet our civic information needs.

For starters, Congress can fund journalism that invests real dollars in local, community, and public media of all kinds. The funds should be aimed at preserving newsrooms and reporting jobs at local commercial and nonprofit news outlets, and investments to meet the civic information needs of communities most affected by long-term decline. local news.

However, securing immediate funding for traditional news outlets is only a short-term solution. We should also think long-term about how journalism can meet the civic information needs of our communities in the 21st century.

In 2011, the FCC released a report making recommendations on how to meet the information needs of communities in a changing media landscape. A decade later, a lot has changed. While consolidation and information deserts have only worsened, social media platforms now dominate the advertising market, making the advertising-driven journalism business model unsustainable. Furthermore, while more than 80% of people get their news online, we still lack a strong and independent online news model, especially at the local level. Policy makers need to take a fresh look at identifying the information needs of our communities today in the current landscape and make recommendations for sustainable and strong journalism.

The FCC can also take steps to support local journalism, fulfilling its public interest mandate to ensure that our media ecosystem reflects our values ​​of localism, competition and diversity. This can start by strengthening media ownership rules and promoting diversity of ownership. Instead of automatically approving every merger that knocks on its door, the agency should exercise the authority given to it by Congress and stop the tidal wave of consolidation that has occurred over the past two decades.

The challenges of our current media landscape are multi-layered and require bold solutions. In order to revive journalism as a pillar of our democracy, we need a vibrant ecosystem with diverse and independent voices, investigative reporting that holds power accountable, and robust reporting that can meet the needs of information from our communities today.

Yosef Getachew is the director of the media and democracy program and Jonathan Walter is the media and democracy program manager at Common Cause, a nonpartisan advocacy organization based in Washington. They wrote this for InsideSources.com.


This story was originally published by the NH Journal, an online news publication dedicated to providing fair and unbiased reporting and analysis of political news relevant to New Hampshire. For more NH Journal articles, visit NHJournal.com.

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