Sunday, April 22, 2012

Why Don't We Trust the Press Anymore? Some Possible Answers

This is an important question and worth taking a look at Rosen’s website for context and information on the topic: Why Don’t We Trust the News Media?


Rosen’s Trust Puzzler: What Explains Falling Confidence in the Press?


Help me figure it out. Here are five explanations, each of them a partial truth.
[Go to website to see chart]

As you can(not) see from the chart, the percentage of Americans who had a “great deal” or a “fair amount” of trust in the news media has declined from over 70 percent shortly after Watergate to about 44 percent today. Why? 

That is my question in this post.
What makes it a puzzle is that during that same period, several other things were happening. Journalists were becoming better educated. They were more likely to go to journalism school, my institution. During this period, the cultural cachet of being a journalist was on the rise. Newsrooms were getting bigger, too: more boots on the ground to cover the news. Journalism was becoming less of a trade and more of a profession. Most people who study the press would say that the influence of professional standards, such as we find in this code, was rising.
So the puzzle is: how do these things fit together? More of a profession, more educated people going into journalism, a more desirable career, greater cultural standing (although never great pay) bigger staffs, more people to do the work … and the result of all that is less trust.
Why? [snip] 
Here are some possible answers. I am going to keep this post open for a week and add the best ideas I get to my list.
When you put my trust puzzler to professional journalists (and I have) they tend to give two replies:
1. All institutions are less trusted. [snip]
2. Bad actors.  [snip]
3. Liberal bias. [snip]
4. Working the refs. (here, meaning journalists) [snip] 
5. Something went awry. [snip]
6. Just part of the power structure now. [snip]
7. Culture war! [snip]
8. Too big to tell. [snip]
* * *
None of these explanations quite do it for me. I think they all have some merit, but “some” does not mean equal. I’m partial to no. 5, but I don’t think it accounts for a 28 point drop in public confidence. So that’s why I say: what would be your theory?

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