How Can The Media Restore Its Trust Factor?
Cable news is in desperate need of viewers. Because of a lack of trust or because the news is too depressing, Americans have begun to avoid it completely.
Trust in the U.S. media is in free fall. It is true for both the traditional and alternative media.
The I&I/TIPP Traditional Media Trust Index has declined 16% over the past eight months. The index dropped 0.7 points or 1.6%, from 43.7 in September to 43.0 in October.
The I&I/TIPP Alternative Media Trust Index has declined 18% over the past eight months. The index declined 3.5 points or 8.7%, from 40.2 in September to 36.7 in October.
TechnoMetrica started tracking the media in March of this year. To enable easy comparison over time, we have converted percentages to a compact index. The indexes range from 0 to 100. Above 50 is the trust territory, and below 50 is lack of trust. 50 is neutral.
According to a recent survey conducted by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at Oxford, among 92,000 news consumers in 46 countries, the United States ranked last in terms of media trust at 29%. Finland received the highest level of trust in the study, at 65%. The United States performed worse than Poland, the Philippines, and Peru.
Here are the trust levels for G-20 countries included in the survey.
Americans also think that the media is part of the national problem and a significant contributor to the division and misinformation in our country.
Responses to the following question form the basis of the Traditional Media Index: Generally speaking, how much trust do you have in the traditional or established news media (Example: Washington Post, New York Times, NPR, CBS News, etc.) to report the news accurately and fairly?
The chart below shows the tally of responses:
Responses to the following question form the basis of the Alternative Media Index: Generally speaking, how much trust do you have in the alternative news media (Example: New York Post, Washington Times, NewsMax, The Daily Caller, RealClearPolitics, etc.) to report the news accurately and fairly?
We present the results below:
Behind The Numbers
The declines were broad-based for both the traditional and the alternative media.
In October, the Traditional Media Index fell across the board, with 25 of the 36 demographic groups we track showing a decline. The alternative media fared even worse, with 31 of the 36 groups falling in October.
Eight groups trust the traditional media, and no demographic group trusts the alternative media.
Democrats trust the traditional media, while both Republicans and independents don’t. However, trust levels of all three have declined over the past eight months. The declines on the trust index by party:
12% for Democrats
26% for Republicans
8% for Independents
Trust in alternative media also has deteriorated over the past eight months. The declines of the trust index by party:
18% for Democrats
24% for Republicans
7% for Independents
Regaining trust is a long, hard slog — that is, if the media wants to. It is not a switch you can turn on or off.
As consumers of news, we can offer up a few suggestions that might help. Perhaps the following steps are in the right direction.
Suggested actions for enhanced Trust in Media, both Traditional and Alternative:
- Be professional. Follow the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) code of ethics.
- Focus solely on reporting the news and hard facts rather than shaping a narrative.
- Do not suppress or spike stories that do not fit preconceived narratives. Report all the news, regardless if it furthers an editorial agenda.
- Try to minimize personal bias—separate journalism from personal political views. When you wear the journalist hat, you must give your readers or viewers unfiltered factual information.
- Generally speaking, lean towards more transparency than less. Don’t hide behind anonymous sources.
- Tell the whole story. Tell the beginning, the middle, and the end, and don’t start from the middle.
- Don’t underestimate the intelligence of your readers or viewers.
- Periodically introspect and develop best practices.
- And last but not least, don’t ever invent stories. It is malpractice of the worst kind.
TIPP Trust Indexes are an unbiased and independent tool that both the media and the general public can use to measure Americans’ trust in the news media.
IF the traditional or alternative media wish to reclaim the public’s trust, they can. And that is a big if.
And, if it cannot reverse its current decline in trust, it is difficult to see how the news media will maintain an audience in the years ahead.