Americans’ trust in US news organisations declines: Study

New study says only 26 percent of Americans have a ‘favourable opinion of the news media’ – the lowest in five years.

An electronic ticker displays news Wednesday, March 11, 2020, in New York's Times Square
A new survey shows a growing number of Americans distrust national news organisations [File: Mary Altaffer/AP Photo]

Half of Americans in a recent survey indicated they believe national news organisations intend to mislead, misinform or persuade the public to adopt a particular point of view through their reporting.

The survey, released Wednesday by Gallup and the Knight Foundation, goes beyond others that have shown a low level of trust in the media to the startling point where many believe there is an intent to deceive.

Asked whether they agreed with the statement that national news organisations do not intend to mislead, 50 percent said they disagreed. Only 25 percent agreed, the study found.

Similarly, 52 percent disagreed with a statement that disseminators of national news “care about the best interests of their readers, viewers and listeners”, the study found. It said 23 percent of respondents believed the journalists were acting in the public’s best interests.

“That was pretty striking for us,” said Sarah Fioroni, a consultant for Gallup. The findings showed a depth of distrust and bad feeling that go beyond the foundations and processes of journalism, she said.

Journalists need to go beyond emphasising transparency and accuracy to show the impact of their reporting on the public, the study said.

“Americans don’t seem to think that the national news organisations care about the overall impact of their reporting on the society,” said John Sands, Knight’s senior director for media and democracy.

In one small consolation, in both cases, Americans had more trust in local news.

The ability of many people to instantly learn news from a device they hold in their hand, the rapid pace of the news cycle and an increased number of news sources would indicate that more Americans are on top of the news than ever before.

Instead, an information overload appears to have had the opposite effect. The survey said 61 percent of Americans believe these factors make it harder to stay informed, while 37 percent said it’s easier.

Like many other studies, the recent one by Knight and Gallup found Democrats trust news more than Republicans. Over the past five years, the level of distrust has particularly spiked among independents. Overall, 55 percent of respondents said there was a great deal of political bias in coverage, compared to 45 percent in 2017.

In a finding reflected in the financial struggles of some news organisations and the declining ratings of television news networks, the survey found 32 percent of Americans said they pay a great deal of attention to local news, compared to 56 percent in early 2020. That was at the outset of a presidential election year and the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak.

In a picture of how people get their news, 58 percent said online, 31 percent said television, 7 percent said radio and 3 percent mentioned printed newspapers or magazines.

For members of Gen Z, aged 18 to 25 years old, 88 percent said they got their news online, the survey found.

In one olive branch, if Americans believed local news organisations didn’t have the resources or opportunities to cover the news, they would be more likely to pay for it.

The results are based on a Gallup study of 5,593 Americans aged 18 and older conducted between May 31 and July 21, 2022.

Source: AP