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Americans are critical of news institutions. That’s not all bad

September 8, 2020 | By Rande Price, Research Director – DCN @Randeloo

Good and honest journalism informs the public, increases knowledge, and offers a healthy dialogue on democracy. And, to hold journalists to that standard, Americans believe their wariness of the news media is healthy for society. They think it is a good practice to keep their guard up when obtaining news and information in order to help determine fact from fiction.

Recent findings from a a year-long Pew Research Center study shows that close to two-thirds (63%) of U.S consumers think it’s best if society questions the news media. Nevertheless, half (51%) of consumers are confident that journalists act in the best interests of the public. While this still leaves many consumers less confident, a full three-quarters of Americans believe their level of confidence in journalists can improve.

Trust and transparency

Accurate news information is critical for news organizations. Six in ten consumers expect the news they receive to be correct. However, more than two-thirds (69%) of consumers believe news organization try to cover up their errors. This underscores a distrust of the news media. Many think mistakes occur due to careless reporting (55%), the race to break a story (53%), and a direct intent to mislead (44%). Transparency in corrections is an opportunity to grow consumer trust. Just over half of American’s say that seeing corrections from news organizations makes them more confident in that outlet.

There’s a high correlation between consumer trust and the transparency of a news source. Trust and transparency work together offering a system of checks and balances in accountability. This Pew analysis makes it clear that consumers are concerned with news organizations’ answerability.

Close to three-quarters of consumers (72%) think that the news media does a poor job explaining their source of their money. Sixty percent of consumers report news organizations are not forthcoming about conflicts of interest. In addition, more than half of consumers think the news media lacks transparency in telling audiences how they choose their sources (57%) and whether a story is fact or opinion (55%).

Consumer connection

A personal connection with news stories often leads to positive attitudes toward the news media. Further, more than half (55%) of consumers feel that it is important to connect with their news sources.

However, 59% of Americans report that news organizations do not understand people like them. And 57% believe that their news outlets do not value them. This results in close to two-thirds (63%) of consumers lacking loyalty to their news outlets. Importantly, those who feel that their news source values them, are much more likely to think their news is accurate and to think their news outlet is transparent.

Diverse representation in the newsroom is critical today. Notably, Black adults are more likely than white adults to say different aspects of personal connections with news organizations are somewhat important. They also are far more likely to say it is important to see themselves both in news coverage and in the newsroom.

This Pew analysis highlights the value of consumers and the news media building a connection with one another. Authentic consumer criticism of the news organizations and their journalists can help better inform conversations. It allows for thorough examinations of the facts and provides assurance of truth in journalism.

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