Who can you trust to tell the truth?
Another poll, another reality check for the media: Americans don’t trust us. The question that comes to mind, for me, is who does the public does trust for reporting the news?
A Gallup poll released late last year revealed that 60 percent of Americans don’t think the media accurately and fairly reports the news, and 33 percent have absolutely no trust or confidence in the media. Finally, a whopping 27 percent have “not very much” trust in mass media (newspapers, television and radio).
The poll reveals a stark contrast based on political party affiliation. Of those with no confidence in the accuracy of mass media news reporting, 58 percent are Republicans, 35 percent are Independents, and 6 percent are Democrats.
I’ve argued in this space previously that lumping local news outlets as part of “the media” doesn’t really work, which makes it very difficult to ascertain what these national polls mean at our micro level. Do these poll numbers hold for The Smoky Mountain News, the Franklin Press, WPTL in Canton and Blue Ridge Public Radio? Are we loathed or loved with the same intensity that those polled may have for CNN or Fox? We certainly don’t have the Sean Hannitys and Anderson Coopers endlessly trilling on from their hyper-partisan perspectives, either pissing people off or piping koombaya into someone’s echo chamber.
It’s certainly easier to distrust and find fault with the media when it comes to national and international reporting. I mean, I can read or listen to a story about the recent power outages in Texas or our diplomacy with Iran in a traditional media source — New York Times or Wall Street Journal, NPR — and then go onto the web and find smaller, more partisan sites that tell a completely different story. If that alternative truth is out there on the web or comes straight from the mouth of an expert on nightly cable news, then I guess the big, traditional media are wrong and not to be trusted.
Competition is a good thing in almost all instances, and in the marketplace of ideas it is essential to consider competing viewpoints. But this country needs citizens who can cut through the spin and tell fact from fiction. There is no competition for fact, no “better” fact. It doesn’t work that way.
I don’t think these polls lie. I think the challenge is defining what is meant by media, trust and truth. We in the media need to take seriously what we hear from readers and citizens, and make sure we continue to stay focused.
That’s why I appreciate the work done by those local newspapers and radio stations I mentioned earlier and all the other media in our region. I know these people and they are honest, hardworking members of this community. Just like the guy at the tire store or the woman fixing your power line, this is their home and so they have skin in the game. Big media often doesn’t understand that connection.