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Social media age shocker? On politics, newspapers get more respect.

A survey of likely 2012 voters found that newspapers, followed by broadcast and cable TV, are considered the most reliable source of election news. Trust in national media, however, is very low.

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People value trustworthiness, notes Dunn, “precisely because we've seen so many high-profile violations of trust. The more that people read about fakery, plagiarism, and wild bias, the more they want the straight story.”

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It's no surprise that relatively few people are relying on social media for the news, says Jack Pitney, professor of American Politics at Claremont McKenna College in California.

Even in 2012, the traditional mainstream media remain the major source of basic reporting, he points out. “With some exceptions, what appears on the Internet is a presentation of, or commentary on, journalism that comes from mainstream news organizations,” he notes via email.

Other media analysts looking at the study results are less impressed with the numbers for print media, pointing instead to their still low trustworthy ratings as a precipitous fall from grace.

The traditional media share the blame for their reduced readership and loss of respect, says Lara Brown, an assistant political science professor at Villanova University in Philadelphia. For years, news media tailored their coverage to niche groups in the hopes that a dedicated following, though smaller than what they had had before, “would make up the revenues for a general public that was more variable,” she notes via email.

After two decades of news organizations moving to attract and reinforce specific ideological groups, she notes, “they have ruined their collective credibility as an unbiased arbiter or neutral observer.” It is not surprising to see people in this survey wish for trustworthiness, she observes, “which means being a neutral observer and historical recorder of the facts, not a spin machine for one or the other party.”

The public also appears to understand that it may take time to get it right, says Ms. Brown, “and now, they'd rather have it right, than be forced to digest a misleading press release delivered to the news organization by an interested party.”

This perspective is likely why the respondents trust the older news sources, she notes. They likely either have residual trust from the past when they behaved in a more neutral manner, or they may believe that these organizations might have if not the same personnel from an earlier era, then at least, the same ethos or institutional memory, “which keeps them honest,” she says.

In short, she says, the public is hungry for facts, not just entertainment, and the news organizations that jump on that trend may find themselves as kings of the hill “because when everyone is doing ‘partisan politics,’ it’s a good idea to position oneself as ‘post-partisan.’”

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