Why can’t the media be trusted?

Photo Courtesy of: Hollywood Reporter

In my Media Responsibility class last week, we were given a list of American institutions and were asked to rate them from 1 to 16 – 1 being the institution we had the greatest confidence in and 16 being the least. It came as a little bit of shock to me that the majority of students had the least confidence in both television and newspapers, considering most of the students in these class were journalism majors.

This lack of trust isn’t just prevalent in the hearts of the 50 odd students in that one J66 class. In fact, a USA TODAY/ CNN/ Gallup Poll shows, only 36% of the American population, among the lowest in years, believe news organizations get the facts straight.

My question is why?

The truth is, there is no right answer. There are several explanations out there, but they are only partially true. In my opinion, the biggest concern is high level of inaccuracies.

Just in 2012, CNN and Fox News wrongly interpreted the Supreme Court’s Affordable Care Act decision and declared that the individual mandate had been struck down, making it the worst profile mistake of the year in the eyes of Regret the Error, a blog founded by award-winning journalist Craig Silverman, dedicated to showing how mistakes in media pollute the press.

This is just one of thousands of examples. When you have two of the most reputable news sources breaking the most important rule of court reporting (read the decision before you interpret it), how can we expect the public to establish trust in the media as a whole?

I am interested to know what you think about this issue and what you feel we as students of journalism can do to make a difference in the future of journalism.

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4 responses to “Why can’t the media be trusted?

  1. I agree with you. I feel one of the main reasons why people are not trusting television and newspapers is partially due to the fast-paced nature of getting news out. Each newspaper or news show wants to be the first to break news. This often causes mistakes and false statements to be made. Our society’s obsession with constantly updating Twitter and other media sources has made the media’s job more difficult and less thought out (or edited). I bet the rate of retractions of news source statements has gone up significantly with the rise in social media. Our jobs as journalists is to edit, edit, edit and fact-check! We have to ensure our sources are solid and can be backed up if questioned. Only then can society start to regain its trust in the media.

  2. Faith,
    This is an extremely interesting, and unsettling, topic. I took the Media Responsibility class last semester. After months of analyzing the news media critically, I (admittedly) lost faith in major news networks, too. I believe biases and narrow reporting both play a huge role in the public’s negative opinions. Inaccuracies are definitely disappointing, but I think a bigger issue –at least with the television news media–is their failure to portray the “middle ground” of issues. Oftentimes we see “experts” with polar opposite views barking at each other on the major broadcast networks. Even worse, these opinions are stated like fact without any fact-checking background work. This “news coverage” isn’t beneficial to the public. As journalists, I believe our job is to represent the wider spectrum of interests on news topics, and confirm the facts behind what is said in reports and interviews. I believe this will help citizens begin to trust news networks.

  3. I agree with both of you that the ranking of the news media is unsettling. However, there is a bright side.
    It hopefully means that the general population is looking at their news media critically. It is our job to report the facts correctly but the general population’s job to keep us on our game. If the readers trust the writer explicitly they are missing out on an opportunity to think critically about the facts and judge their accuracy for themselves.

  4. I agree with you about not trusting the media. A thought appeared in my mind though. A lot of young journalists grew up with media, and they experienced what media is. I would think that they would learn from mistakes that the media made and not repeat them. We, as journalists entering the career field, should not repeat media’s mistakes. We have to learn to analyze information, cite sources, etc. before our stories go viral.

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