Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Credibility chasm

Apart from a slight increase in the public’s esteem for NPR and the National Enquirer, the credibility of the American media has plunged broadly and steadily since 1998, according to an unsettling new report.

Perhaps most troubling is that the public’s regard for local newspaper and TV coverage has fallen the farthest in a survey by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press.

As you can see from the table below, cable TV news was the most trusted news medium when Pew conducted its first media credibility poll in 1998. Cable TV news was rated as believable by 37% of the respondents eight years ago vs. 24.8% today.

In the same period, local TV news fell from 34% to 23% and the daily paper tumbled from 29% to 19%. Against the average credibility drop of 4.4 points for all the media surveyed by Pew, the plunge for local TV was 11 points (2.5x the average) and the tumble for newspapers was 10 points (2.3x the average).

This has huge implications for the local media franchises fighting for audience, ad share and profitability in a time of technology-induced disintermediation.

Even as local media seek to consolidate their core audiences and build their presence in the digital realm, they find themselves battling the growing perception that their primary competitive strength – their expensively-produced content – is not perceived by viewers and readers as being as valuable as it used to be. Ongoing newsroom layoffs are unlikely to help reverse this trend, and, arguably, may accelerate it.

In fairness, however, the damage to media credibility probably is less self-inflicted and more the result of an increasingly cynical political process.

“Republicans express less confidence than Democrats in the credibility of nearly every major news outlet, with the exception of Fox News Channel,” reports Pew. “Among TV and radio sources, the partisan gap is particularly evident for the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer and NPR. ­ Democrats are twice as likely as Republicans to say they believe all or most of what these outlets report, placing them among the most credible sources for Democrats, and among the least credible for Republicans.”

It is encouraging that NPR is one of the two surveyed media whose credibility actually has increased in the last eight years. Public radio today is deemed as being trustworthy by 22% of respondents vs. 19% in 1998.

Before we get too carried away, remember that the only other winner is the National Enquirer. Its confidence has doubled to 6% in the last eight years.

It’s nice to know there are a growing number of inquiring minds out there.


Blogger Newsosaur said...

From Ryan Tate:

I do think you let newspapers off the hook too easily. Metro dailies are not
trusted because for 300+ years they were the only game in town, so they
could afford to get the basics wrong (not all the time or even most of the
time, but all too often -- C+ performance). Now it's catching up with
newspapers. It started with TV and was accelerated by the Internet.

So, yes, there is an increase in cynicism and a tendency to overpoliticize
media criticism. But that's fed by many large genuine problems uncovered by
the Internet over the past few years.

11:19 AM  

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