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Americans are losing trust in the media. What can we do about it?

October 31, 2023 | By Rande Price, Research VP – DCN

In a world driven by information, trust in the news has reached an all-time low in the United States. The most recent Gallup poll reveals that only 32% of Americans express “a great deal” or “a fair amount” of trust in the mass media to report the news fully, fairly, and accurately. This statistic ties with the lowest results to date from 2016 and reflects a significant decline in confidence over the years.

A further breakdown of the data reveals that another 29% of U.S. adults have “not very much” trust in the media, while a record-high 39% register “none at all.” The nearly four in 10 Americans completely lacking confidence in the media is the highest on record, surpassing Gallup’s 2016 results by one percentage point.

Historical trends

Gallup began tracking media trust in 1972. Trust ranged from 68% to 72% in the 1970s and started to decline in the late 1990s. The decline grew in 2004 when it dropped to 44%; since 2008, it’s registered annual declines.

One significant aspect of the decline in trust is the partisan divide. While Democrats have traditionally expressed more trust in the media than Republicans, the gap between the two has narrowed. Democrats’ trust has fallen by 12 points in the past year to 58%, compared to 11% among Republicans and 29% among independents. The gap in media confidence was largest from 2017 through 2022, during which Democrats’ trust remained above their trend average of 64%, while Republicans and independents lagged.

Interestingly, aggregated data reveals that young Democrats trust the media far less than older Democrats, highlighting generational differences in media perception. In contrast, Republicans’ views are less varied across age groups.

Rebuilding trust in the news media

The decline in trust in the media, as demonstrated by Gallup’s recent poll, reflects a deeply rooted issue in American society. Gallup’s research shows that trust in news media is eroding over time, leading to a disconnect between audiences and new outlets that inform them. The World Economic Forum identifies six steps for news organizations to rebuild trust in news and journalism’s integrity.

  1. Build awareness about the trustworthiness of news media. News organizations must double down on their dedication to high-quality content by disclosing their principles and procedures for upholding accuracy and trustworthiness. This entails providing insights into their source evaluation, editing protocols, reader guidance, and responsible utilization of artificial intelligence.
  2. Reduce exposure to harmful content online. News organizations must identify and cut back the malicious actors spreading information, and disincentivize the creation of echo chambers for extremist views.
  3. Promote media information literacy and empower people to discern between reliable and misleading information. Integrating media information literacy into educational programs and offering it through corporate training ― to their employees and audiences.
  4. Refrain from solely depending on AI for news generation. It’s important for news businesses to learn how to use AI to support journalism—from improving reporting techniques and expanding media literacy to enable individuals to share their narratives to establishing fresh channels for user interaction. 
  5. Strengthen credibility by emphasizing transparency and accountability. News organizations must use transparent processes and adhere to independently audited audience measurements to establish and sustain trust.
  6. Increase interest and engagement in news media. News businesses need to create quality content that is accessible and affordable. Partnerships between media outlets and other players can provide consumers access to multiple news sources, overcoming challenges like walled gardens and privacy regulations.

Restoring trust in the news is a continuous process that demands cooperation among media organizations, tech firms, policymakers, and the public. Upholding the integrity of journalism is imperative to ensure that the public has confidence in the news outlets they depend on.

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