In the media we mistrust


Only 29% of Americans believe that the media gets its facts straight when reporting the news, and many believe politics colors the final product, according to a new Pew Research Center study. While Republicans have tended to believe this for some time, Democrats are joining the media-bashing bandwagon. Meanwhile, TV is still the most used news source, radio and newspaper are hanging in there and the internet is showing weakness on the local scene.

Back in 1985, according to Pew, 55% of Americans felt that the media got the news right, and 34% believed it reported it fairly. There have been ups and downs since, but the trend has very much been down, to the point of 29% and 18% in the two categories respectively in 2009.

Change has been rapid just looking at 2007 and 2009. 53% said stories were often inaccurate in 2007, a number that jumped 10% to 63% in 2009. Independent voters actually bucked that trend, going from 56% to 53% during the same period; Republicans rose 6% from 63% to 69%. The big mover was Democrats, going from 43% to 59% in two short years.

Party line assessments of media fairness were parallel. Overall, those who believe the media shows favoritism increased from 66% to 74%; among independents, the number went up 68% to 73%; Republicans went up too, but they were already high, going from 81% to 84%. Democrats again were the big movers, going from 54% to 67%.

Pew asked about go-to media for national and local news. TV is tops, getting hits from 71% and 64%. Newspaper showed the strongest local reputation, posting numbers of 33% and 41%; radio was steady at 21% and 18%; and the internet proved to be mainly a national medium, receiving scores of 42% and 17%.

Television was strongest as well through all age cells. Pew divided demos into all ages, 18-29, 34-49, 50-64 and 65+. TV’s national numbers were 71%, 70%, 62%, 77% and 81%; and for local it scored 64%, 67%, 60%, 63% and 69%.

Newspaper’s numbers show a rapidly aging constituency. It’s national score was 33%, 21%, 26%, 37% and 55%; local numbers were 41%, 39%, 33%, 45% and 53%.

Radio again was fairly consistent, showing some drop-off, somewhat surprisingly, in the older demos. National: 21%, 18%, 28%, 19% and 15%. Local: 18%, 22%, 21%, 14% and 13%.

The internet again was much stronger on national – and not surprisingly does not do well among those 65 and older (not that operators in the medium probably care). National: 42%, 64%, 54%, 29%, 10%. Local: 17%, 21%, 24%, 12%, 4%.

RBR/TVBR observation: Our belief is that there have always been responsible journalists attempting to get the facts out into the open. And there have always been news outlets more interested in using sensationalism to sell whatever medium it’s selling.

What has definitely increased lately are the number of watchdogs on the internet who are ready to pounce on any story a take it apart; and the number of pundits on all media who make a lot of noise while by definition having no interest whatsoever in objectivity.

We believe the low numbers for radio are due to the formatization of news in that medium – stations either have a lot of it, or almost none. Hence it performs steadily across all age groups whether the topic is national or local.

The internet, however, experiences a great drop off in usage when local information is being sought – the medium still hasn’t figured out a way to do local well – and this is something local television and radio need to exploit to both protect their over-the-air product, and to sell their own web presence – which DOES have the advantage of being tied to what should be a strong local media outlet.