The opening sentence in the press release from Gallup says it all:
The majority of Americans still do not have confidence in the mass media to report the news fully, accurately, and fairly. The 44% of Americans who have a great deal or fair amount of trust and the 55% who have little or no trust remain among the most negative views Gallup has measured.
Here is the new data from Gallup tacked on to old data from Gallup, so that you can get the big picture. This is in 3-year increments going back to 1973. I’ve been updating and showing this image for ten years, because it immediately ends arguments about the viability of continuing down the same, tired paths.
This slide evidences the insurmountable problem for media companies today, because it slams the door on any attempts by the press to right the ship doing things the way we’ve always done them. It ain’t gonna work. Period.
The standard journalist response to the decline in ratings or circulation is that we’re not doing enough “hard” news, whatever that is. Or we’re not doing enough “investigative” news, whatever that is. Look at that graph. The nostalgia with which most journalists sincerely believe will fix what’s broken has to go back a very long way, for the decline in trust goes back 35 years. Thirty-five years! It’s broken, and we need to start over, not go back to the good old days when the people were spoon-fed by our “expertise.”
This is why contrary opinions, like the one expressed by AP’s David Bauder this week in New life in television’s evening news, are so disappointing. Bauder takes a look at some numbers and concludes that the network evening newscast is back.
…the networks have just completed a TV season where all three grew their audiences for the first time since 2001-02, when terrorists struck and the Afghanistan and Iraq wars began. The growth is continuing for the first few weeks of this season.
The reason he and his list of experts cite is concern about the economy and what he calls “the curating function of the evening news,” which is necessary because, you know, the audience is incapable of figuring out anything for themselves.
People follow news, “but they want someone they trust at the end of the day to explain it to them, to show what it means to them. Somebody credible,” said Michael Corn, executive producer of ABC’s “World News” with Sawyer.
Brand name journalists mean something when people can’t trust the accuracy of what they see online, said Dave Marash, a veteran journalist who worked at ABC News and Al-Jazeera English.
What Bauder and those like him fail to do is overlay the Gallup graph onto attempts to justify the hole in which we find ourselves. Michael Corn apparently believes that people “want someone they can trust at the end of the day to explain it to them.” Right. Now take a look at that graph and repeat that to me.
Folks, let’s be honest. The rise of new media is, in part, a direct response to the Gallup graph, and we make fools of ourselves every time we try to explain it otherwise. Before we say people trust us, we’d better be sure of the facts.