A new poll conducted by the Gallup Organization contains some very bad news for the news industry. The survey indicates that only 23 percent of American adults have “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in newspapers and television news, the worst results since 2007.
According to Elizabeth Mendes, deputy managing editor at Gallup, newspapers have been trending downward since 1979, when they reached a high of 51 percent, but TV news bounced up slightly from its all-time low of 21 percent a year ago.
Confidence in newspapers declined from 28 percent in 2011 and 25 percent in 2012. This year's results show that only 15 percent of conservatives have confidence in newspapers, down from 21 percent in the previous two years.
Moderates' confidence has been falling for the past two years and is now at 25 percent. Liberals remain the most trustful of newspapers, with 31 percent putting a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in them.
In her article on the survey, Mendez stated:
Trust in newspapers by party mirrors the respondents' ideological findings. Democrats are most confident at 33 percent, while independents are less so at 19 percent, and Republicans, at 16 percent, are least confident.
Interestingly, Americans of all educational backgrounds express similarly low confidence in newspapers, but respondents with higher levels of education -- college or beyond -- are less confident in TV news than those with only some or no college education.
“Americans' confidence in TV news was highest at 46 percent in 1993, when Gallup first asked about it,” Mendes noted. “However, the question on this subject did not indicate the specific type of television news, meaning respondents could be thinking about anything ranging from cable news channels to local news when answering the poll.”
The survey also indicates that conservatives' confidence in television news, at 18 percent, is tied for the lowest of the group on record and is down from 22 percent last year.
Liberals' and moderates' confidence improved this year after dropping in 2012. These groups currently express more confidence in television news than conservatives, while the groups had similar responses a year ago.
Last year's survey was conducted during a presidential election campaign between Democratic incumbent Barack Obama and Republican Gov. Mitt Romney, which Mendes states may be one reason liberals' and moderates' confidence dropped at that time.
Similarly, Democrats (34 percent) express more confidence this year in television news than do independents (17 percent) and Republicans (18 percent).
Overall, Americans in all key demographic and socioeconomic groups express low levels of confidence in news institutions. Negativity varies somewhat by age, education, and gender.
Two in 10 Americans from 18 to 64 years of age have high confidence in television news, compared with three in 10 seniors. But young adults have the most confidence in newspapers across age groups -- as was the case last year -- with three in 10 expressing a great deal or quite a lot of confidence.
Also, women have slightly more confidence than men in both television news and newspapers.
Mendes stated that the news industry has been losing ground over the past six years, which is when social networking sites have proliferated, causing news outlets and journalists to work to find their place on them and serving to expand the role of citizen media and user-generated content.
Social sites and the Internet in general, as well as the 24/7 television news cycle, have challenged traditional media outlets and brought new ones to the fore, creating an increasingly complex -- and sometimes messy -- news environment.
“While individual news consumers have better access to news and to journalists than ever before, the struggles of the news industry seem to be affecting Americans' confidence in it,” she added.
“Additionally, the increasingly partisan nature of cable news in particular could be related to Americans' declining confidence in television news specifically, with confidence dropping among conservatives, moderates, and liberals since the early 2000s,” Mendes asserted.
Of course, it should come as no surprise that conservatives are less trusting of the obviously liberal newspapers and TV news outlets. We've seen what they think is news and found other places to get information that "leans" in more than one direction.
The critical flaw in this survey -- which was conducted by telephone interviews June 1-4 with a random sample of 1,529 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia -- is the lack of specific information regarding which television news outlets the respondents rely on.
As a result, Mendes can only guess at the impact “the increasingly partisan nature of cable news” has had on the TV viewing habits of the people taking part in the poll. Let's hope next time around, Gallup will have modified its survey questions to obtain more practical -- and useful -- information.