Gallup: Lack of trust in press hits record high

The folks at Gallup today released their annual survey about trust in the press, and it’s bad news. Six of ten Americans now say they have little or no trust in the news media. Here’s the chart published along with the release:

Gallup Trust in media displayed in annual increments since 2001

While this may be depressing, it pales in comparison to the chart I’ve been creating ever since Gallup switched to annual data in 2001. Prior to that date, they only asked the question every three years. I think the story is more precisely told by looking at the data in 3‐year increments going back to 1973:

Gallup media trust data in 3-year increments

Either way, this is an incredibly dangerous sign for the press, the elements of which are fighting for their own survival. Here’s the way Gallup summarizes the problem:

On a broad level, Americans’ high level of distrust in the media poses a challenge to democracy and to creating a fully engaged citizenry. Media sources must clearly do more to earn the trust of Americans, the majority of whom see the media as biased one way or the other. At the same time, there is an opportunity for others outside the “mass media” to serve as information sources that Americans do trust.

The bottom line is this (and it’s been this way for many years): When your newsroom employees hit the door to do their jobs, they do so without the public trust. The only way we’re going to get any of that back is to be trustworthy.

Agnew was right

Friday was the 40th anniversary of Spiro T. Agnew’s famous speech on the power of the television news media. The press vilified Agnew at the time, but I have to acknowledge a few head nods as I re‐read the thing this weekend (read it here).

…the President of the United States has a right to communicate directly with the people who elected him, and the people of this country have the right to make up their own minds and form their own opinions about a Presidential address, without having the President’s words and thoughts characterized through the prejudice of hostile critics before they can even be digested.

Agnew charged that such power in the hands of just a few “men” was not good for democracy, for even these men acknowledged their biases. In looking back at this with an open mind, one cannot escape the reality of what’s happened with regards to trust of the press in the U.S. since Agnew made the speech. I can’t prove it, but the evidence suggests that the people agree with Agnew, and not the press. Agnew’s speech was in 1969. Here’s Gallup data going back to 1973.

galluptrust

For the first time, more people in the U.S. distrust the press to be fair and accurate than trust us, and this must be a central theme as we try an reinvent ourselves for future relevancy.