A new Pew Research Center for the People & the Press survey, released yesterday, reveals that the American public’s opinion of the press’s accuracy has reached its lowest level in two decades of Pew surveys.
The public’s thoughts on media bias and independence didn’t fare much better — the levels reported in this recent survey now match the lowest figures recorded by Pew.
Pew Research’s biennial media attitudes survey, which included data from 1,506 adults reached on landlines and cell phones, found that only 29 percent of Americans think that news organizations generally get the facts straight, with 63 believing that news stories are often inaccurate. Compare this to Pew’s first survey about the media’s performance in 1985, when 55 percent of respondents said news stories were accurate. However, that percentage dropped to 34 percent in the late 1990’s and has stayed low, finally dipping to today’s 29 percent. Ouch.
What’s more, 60 percent of respondents in the recent survey said news organizations are politically biased and only 20 percent said media companies are working independently from powerful people and organizations.
Not surprisingly, the opinion of the news media can be broken down by political party, with Republicans being the most critical of the media, Pew’s research revealed. However, Democrats have become increasingly critical of the media as well in recent years, lessening the gap between the parties over opinions on inaccuracy and favoritism. Reports Pew:
“Today, most Democrats (59 percent) say that the reports of news organizations are often inaccurate; just 43 percent said this two years ago. Democrats are also now more likely than they were in 2007 to identify favoritism in the media: Two-thirds (67 percent) say the press tends to favor one side rather than to treat all sides fairly, up from 54 percent. And while just a third of Democrats (33 percent) say news organizations are ‘too critical of America,’ that reflects a 10-point increase since 2007.”
Democrats and Republicans also have differing opinions about various news organizations. Democrats have more positive views about CNN, MSNBC, The New York Times, NPR and the broadcast networks while Republicans favor Fox News and The Wall Street Journal, Pew’s research revealed.
And here’s a juicy tidbit for the New York media crowd: the starkest division between Democrats and Republicans can be seen in their thoughts about the Times:
“Although most Americans are not familiar enough with the Times to express an opinion, Republicans view The New York Times negatively by a margin of nearly two-to-one (31 percent to 16 percent), while Democrats view it positively by an almost five-to-one margin (39 percent to 8 percent). More independents rate the Times favorably (29 percent) than unfavorably (18 percent).”
One of the most interesting findings of the Pew survey was the belief among Americans that the death of traditional media outlets would be an important loss. 82 percent of respondents said that “if all local television news programs went off the air — and shut down their web sites — it would be an important loss,” Pew said. 76 percent said the same about network TV evening news. And, although they rely mostly on the Internet for their news, young people were more likely than their older counterparts to state that it would be an important loss if national news sources like network TV evening news, cable news and large national newspapers closed up shop.
So, what can we learn from this survey? The American public doesn’t trust the traditional news media, but they don’t want to see it go away, either. At this point, it’s unclear what sort of changes the media can enact in order to assure Americans of their independence and accuracy. More transparency? More social interaction online? More user generated content? More varying view points?
Whatever it takes, the media needs to win back the hearts and minds of the public. We need them to survive.
Read more of the survey’s findings here.
(Graphic from Pew Research Center.)