The trust problem

One of the old saws of mainstream journalism is that it owns trust, that’s why people go to it. But we keep seeing polls that belie that, the latest from Harris, which found that less than half of Americans trust most media.

During this political primary season, the media, especially cable news networks, have seen a large increase in viewers, listeners and/or readers. But, with all this do people actually trust the media? The answer is not really. Looking at the press in general, over half (54%) of Americans say they tend not to trust them, with only 30 percent tending to trust the press. Just under half (46%) of Americans say they do not trust television, while one-third (36%) do trust them. Somewhat surprisingly, Internet news and information sites do slightly better as a plurality of Americans (41%) trust them while just one-third (34%) tend not to trust them. And, radio tends to do best among Americans as 44 percent say they tend to trust it and one-third (32%) tend not to trust radio. . . .

Overall, Democrats are more likely to trust the media than Republicans, even with regard to radio. Just over half of Democrats (51%) trust radio compared to 45 percent of Republicans, and 45 percent of Democrats tend to trust Internet news and information sites compared to 40 percent of Republicans. The largest differences are for television and the press. Half of Democrats (50%) say they tend to trust television compared to three in ten (31%) Republicans. When it comes to the press in general, a plurality of Democrats (43%) say they tend to trust them, but only one in five (19%) of Republicans say the same.

I don’t think it’s surprising at all that the internet has better scores than the press. That’s surprising only to the press. And therein lies, I think, a solution to the problem: The press is a them and the internet is an us. The more that news organizations involve their publics, the more the public feels a stake and ownership in journalism, the more the public has an influence on journalism and its means and use of resources, the better chance there is that people will trust that journalism. Yes, predictably, I’ll say this is about collaboration but not just in reporting. This is also about collaborating to decide what stories deserve ever-more-scarce-and-precious journalistic resources. This is about more openness, transparency, and respect shown by the journalists. This about journalism trying to become first-first plural.