Credibility gaps everywhere

Credibility gaps everywhere

: The other day, I posted the momentous news from Gallup that trust in big media has declined markedly. Tor the first time in recent history, more people distrust than trust big media. That is big news (which, no, we haven’t seen prominently displayed on the news).

But big media isn’t alone with declining trust.

In the post below, I quoted results of a USC/Annenberg Center for the Digital Future study on Internet v. TV time and when I went to the original study, I found some sobering stats on the public’s trust of the internet — and particularly of sites created by individuals — which, of course, includes blogs.

Now this could just be the general cooties attached to the internet and to personal home pages from the start. But I think it’s more than that.

First, I do fear that the tone of much of what comes from the internet and blogs contributes to this; thus my sermonizing on mud-slinging. I doubt that contributes much to this decline in trust, but I will say that we’d better watch out, or it will.

I also think that there’s a new skepticism rising in the land (and it’s not necessarily a bad thing): Just as we come to distrust big media more, and just as we come to realize that we can go to the source of news ourselves and judge for ourselves, we have to wake up to the notion that making that judgment isn’t easy. We’re not sure whom to believe. Call that mistrust. Or call that cynicism. Or call that healthy skepticism. When every citizen becomes his own reporter, every citizen becomes as skeptical as a reporter should be.

I actually think that the Rathergate case will improve the reputation of internet (and individual) media. If this survey were taken again today, I’d just bet that among those aware of the Rathergate story and of the internet’s and blogs’ role in it, we’d gain a few points. But that’s only a bet.


The USC study says:

Web sites mounted by established media (such as ranked highest in perceived accuracy and reliability; 74.4 of users say that most or all information on established media Web sites is reliable and accurate.

Government Web sites also fared well with users in the current study; 73.5 percent say that most or all of the information on government Web sites is reliable and accurate.

Information pages posted by individuals have the lowest credibility; only 9.5 percent of users say the information on Web sites posted by individuals is reliable and accurate.

Even though large percentages of users say that most or all of the information on Web sites posted by established media and the government is reliable and accurate, it is worth noting that significant numbers of users believe that only half or less of information on these sites is reliable and accurate; 25.7 percent of users say that about half or less of news sites posted by established media are reliable and accurate, while 26.5 percent of users judge that about half or less of government Web sites are reliable and accurate….

Of very experienced users, 83.5 percent say that most or all of the information on news pages posted by established media is reliable and accurate, compared to 49.1 percent of new users who provide the same response.

When asked about government Web sites, 81.4 percent of very experienced users, compared to 50.1 percent of new users, say that most or all of the information on those sites is reliable and accurate.

New users and very experienced users agree about the low credibility of information posted by individuals; only 9.2 percent of very experienced users and 7.5 percent of new users say that most or all of the information on pages posted by individuals is reliable and accurate.

The bottom line: Trust is something you earn every day and can lose anytime. Little media has to work just as hard — no harder — at gaining trust than big media. And you know how hard big media has to work at it.

: UPDATE: Ken Layne doesn’t buy the huge decline in media trust.

  • semm

    Why should people ‘trust’ blogs? I wouldn’t say they are any more intrinsicly honest than a more mainstream source. The advantage and beauty of the blog system is that it is a medium which makes it much easier to provide your sources and for them to be checked rapidly. In this way, there need not be any trust involved because you arent asking your reader to ‘take my word for it.’

  • Jeff,
    I’ve been following this tracking study since it first came along in 2000. The work was originally under the UCLA Center for Communications Policy, which has since morphed into the USC/Annenberg organization. This data was collected in July and September of 2003 and was originally scheduled for release over six months ago. To release it in September and put a 2004 tag on it is, it seems to me, misleading.
    Don’t get me wrong. I love this ongoing effort and have used it many, many times in my work. I’m just very disappointed by the scores of telephone calls I made in an effort to get the year four (2003) data.
    The point is that the blogosphere is essentially a 2004 phenomenon in terms of reaching the general public. I would pay no attention whatsoever to these particular numbers.

  • All I can say, at an anecdotal level, is that I never buy print media at all anymore. I do miss the sports page though! This change began for me with 9/11, in which the major media fell easily a day behind the internet, and accelerated after I discovered blogs. The trustworthiness of individual blogs will be seen over time, but it is speed and transparency which is really novel to this phenomenon.

  • Jeff, I think you’re a bit like Jay Rosen in denial about your own role, your own bias.
    “Mud slinging” is bad, but good questions are important.
    Is it important that Bush flew for some 900 points (some 550 was min.)? That he had an honorable discharge? That maybe some paperwork is missing?
    (No, yes, no).
    Is the importance related to Bush’s campaign emphasis on that aspect of his past? (yes)
    I think you’d agree, so far … but at that last question, knowing what’s coming, what do you feel?
    Is Kerry’s Vietnam performance more important to HIS campaign than Bush’s Air National Guard? (yes)
    So what about those Swiftie questions.
    Did Kerry promise to release his records (yes), and did he sign Form 180 (no)
    (NO) — got that, Jeff, Kerry “who served in Vietnam” for the last year, has NOT released his records. I don’t think that’s mud, it’s a fact.
    Did Kerry spend Christmas in Cambodia in 1968? (no) — so, um, how could it be seared, seared in his memory as he has stated in 1986 Senate testimony?
    When did Kerry first get shot at (after Dec 9), and when did he get his first PH (~Dec 2), um what does the after action report say? (N/A, no Form 180).
    Anyway, I’m really, really sorry your ABB candidate Kerry is so weak. I started blogging a year ago, angry at how Bush-hate was drowning out any good debate. I’m still angry at Bush-hate, and you’re often good about trying to get to issues. But you’ve really avoided the issues of Kerry’s Vietnam lies/ fables/ exaggerations/ phony combined with real heroism.
    I don’t want mud, but I do want real facts. It seems that YOU don’t really have some of the important facts, but don’t want to admit it, so claim that such questions are mudslinging.
    If I’m missing something I’d be interested in what.
    I like your being correct in how we DO need to call terrorists by the T word, what they are, murdering terrorists.

  • Karl

    Expanding on Terry’s point, I think it should be obvious that trust in a source of information is built over time. New media — including blogging — is, well, new. I would not expect such media to have developed the same trust and reputation that old media have (had) developed (however undeserved in some cases). Rathergate’s longer-term import is that it introduced the blogosphere to a much wider audience and in a case where the bloggers were correct and CBS was not. It is an event that will help build trust in blogs generally, and in those that advanced the story in particular.

  • Tim

    Trend (see charts on p. 51):
    “The credibility of information on the Internet was high among users through the first three years of this study, and that credibility remains generally high in Year Four. However, that high level of credibility for online information began to decline in the third year of this study, and dropped even further in Year Four. When asked,