Distrust of Mainstream Media Grows, and That Is a Good Thing

It is now 22 years since I worked as a journalist, and about four years since I last taught a class that was cross-listed with the university’s Department of Mass Communications.

I had six years in daily newspapers — not a career, but enough to learn the ropes — plus some magazine work.

The Gallup Organization is out with polling data, appropriate for an election year, about growing distrust of the news media.

The lede:

For the fourth straight year, the majority of Americans say they have little or no trust in the mass media to report the news fully, accurately, and fairly. The 57% who now say this is a record high by one percentage point.

A key graf with implications for the business side:

Lower-income Americans and those with less education are generally more likely to trust the media than are those with higher incomes and more education. A subgroup analysis of these data suggests that three demographic groups key to advertisers — adults aged 18 to 29, Americans making at least $75,000 per year, and college graduates — lost more trust in the media in the past year than other groups, but the sample sizes in this survey are too small to say so definitively.

Quite simply, editors no longer totally decide what is “news.” In the old days, they did. The managing editor of one paper where  I worked had written a master’s thesis on that very topic: agenda-setting. He also once pronounced to the staff, in response to some citizen’s complaint that we had not covered Event X, that “a newspaper is not a public utility.”

In other words, we had no obligation to cover an event, a political candidate, or anyone’s activities if we were short on staff or just did not think it newsworthy.

Now, however, you see even the big papers and networks reacting — slowly and creakily — to news stories that germinate in blogs or other types of “citizen media.”

In addition, the exposure of things like the Journolist scandal or other examples of blatant bias get rapidly circulated online.

What New York Times public editor Arthur Brisbane said about  the newsroom’s “culture of like minds” is true at many papers. I saw it when I was in my twenties, in both print and broadcast media,  but outside of journalism graduate programs — and maybe not even there — where would I have discussed it?  Who would have cared? Now some people specialize in pointing out media bias.

Where I am going with this? I liked newspaper work on many levels, but I can think of some smug editors and reporters who deserved to have their cages rattled. I like that there are multiple channels of information now, even if some of them are unreliable. (Not to mention criminal.) It’s still better than the alternative.


One thought on “Distrust of Mainstream Media Grows, and That Is a Good Thing

  1. Pitch313

    More than anything else, I suspect that what has changed thanks to more access to information via more channels is the notion of “mainstream.” It used to mean the preponderant current of information, but these days it more means the current of information that gets my undies in a bunch.

    Growing up when alternative sources were few and somewhat challenging to access, I valued them highly. These days, alternative sources are legion and challenging to get around, and I find it harder to gain insights into anything…

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