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Skepticism is alive and well in 2018. Fake news or alternative facts—depending more on a person’s point of view rather than actual reality—wormed its way into our collective psyche over the course of 2016 and 2017. When combined with revelations about social media accounts used to purposefully spread biased, inaccurate, or falsified stories—is it any wonder that trust in the media experienced a decline? And it isn’t the only institution to suffer this fate. In recent decades, a number of long-standing systems—governmental, financial, religious, scientific—have taken a hit in terms of public trust. In the case of the media, however, signs indicate that a positive trend is on the horizon.
A November 2016 article on the FiveThirtyEight blog noted that the first Gallup poll questioning Americans about their trust of newspapers took place in 1973. At that time—several months into the Watergate scandal, 39 percent of respondents reported having a ‘great deal of trust’ in newspapers. But tenacious investigative reporting led to the unfathomable—President Nixon’s resignation in advance of his inevitable impeachment—and by 1979, Americans’ trust in newspapers climbed to 51 percent. The articles notes, “The numbers have mostly slide since then, and in 2016, only 20 percent of Americans said they trust newspapers.” Television news followed a similar path.
One of the challenges that traditional media professionals face is how people consume news in the digital age. According to a 2016 Pew Research Center study, the percentage of people who report ‘a lot’ or ‘some’ trust varies by media source:
The good news? Last year, the Gallup poll found trust in newspapers had gained seven percentage points and trust in television news gained three. The catalyst could be the increasing number of credible, thoroughly-investigated stories that dominated headlines throughout 2017. Journalists hold themselves to exacting standards, and the accusations of fake or biased news have inspired even greater transparency and accountability for reporting. And it’s not just big players like the Washington Post, Boston Globe or New York Times earning praise for their reporting. Teen Vogue has attracted considerable attention for honest, hard-hitting reporting. Forbes attributes Teen Vogue’s shift to Millennials “… pushing the proverbial envelope when it comes to writing about important (and often political) issues,” noting that other fashion publications are following suit. “The goal,” writes Candace McDuffie in Forbes, “… isn’t to minimize timely thoughtful commentary as some sort of fad. It is to reaffirm that this brand of journalism—one that involves thorough research, meticulous reporting, and the refusal to back down—is here to stay.”
1. Read more posts on research, journalism, and the fake news phenomenon on this blog.
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