Americans' confidence in news media finally sees uptick, poll shows

Television news saw the biggest boost in public confidence this year, a new Gallup poll shows. Newspapers, too, rose a bit in Americans' esteem. Is the news more interesting to people now?

Chip Somodevilla/CNP-PHOTOlink/Newscom
President Obama is seen on live television screens in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House, on June 22, in Washington. A recent Gallup poll showed Americans' confidence in the news media revived a bit this year for both newspapers and television news.

Americans' confidence in the news media – which hit bottom in 2007 and has stayed low – revived a bit this year for both newspapers and television news.

A recent Gallup poll showed that 28 percent of Americans expressed "a great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in newspapers – a jump of three percentage points from the previous year. Confidence in TV news rose five percentage points to 27 percent.

“While the improvement for each is small in absolute terms, it could mark the beginning of the reversal of the trend seen in recent years,” reported Lymari Morales of Gallup. The poll, conducted in early June, is part of Gallup's annual update on public confidence in institutions.

The uptick in confidence could be a result of people's ability to more easily find news that interests them, says Joshua Benton, director of the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass.

“Your interests were never in perfect alignment with your local newspaper, but that’s the nature of the medium,” Mr. Benton says. Now, “the Web enables much more customization.” People now see the news as something they can talk back to and relate to, he adds.

In 1990, 39 percent of Americans reported having "a great deal" of confidence in newspapers. That share sank to an all-time low in 2007, when just 22 percent of the public had that level of confidence. Television news received 46 percent confidence in 1993 among Americans, but it similarly dropped to a nadir of 23 percent in 2007.

In 2007, many people were not happy with the political culture, and that could have affected their perception of the news, Benton suggests.

“The confidence in the media is often a proxy for what the media is reporting about,” he says. “A lot of people were feeling anger toward the government, and some of that reflected in the decline in [media] confidence.”

Gallup posed this question: "How confident are you in the media – a great deal, quite a lot, some or very little?" This year, Democrats, Republicans, and political independents all reported greater confidence in television news, and either an increase or no change in confidence in newspapers. For example, last year 16 percent of Republicans expressed confidence in television news; this year, 25 percent did. Among Democrats, 39 percent said they had "a good deal" of confidence in newspapers, compared with 33 percent in 2010.

“To a certain degree, trust is probably aligned with people’s ideas,” Benton says. If a person is liberal, then that person is likely to have more confidence in new sources that express liberal ideas. The same connection is true for people who are conservative, Benton suggests.

"If you look back to 1993, think about TV news back then, that’s pre-Fox and msnbc becoming what they are," he says. "TV has moved into the direction of being much more ideologically separated."

In today's media landscape, people have learned to question their news sources, and are able to seek out more perspectives and information from a variety of news sources, Benton suggests.

“People are getting their newspaper information from different newspapers than they used to,” he says. “A lot of people 10 years ago were reading from their local newspapers.” Now, Benton says, people can read a variety of news sources by finding their news online.

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