Public Trust in Journalism and Media: Analysis of Data from 1970 to 2015

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In 2015, Gallup reported that trust and confidence in the news media was at its lowest point since the initiation of the Gallup Governance Survey in 1972. The percentage of Americans saying they have a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in newspapers was at one of its lowest points since that question was first asked in 1973 as part of Gallup’s annual tracking of Confidence in Institutions. The percentage of Americans with this same level of confidence in television news also was near its lowest point since that question was first asked in 1993. The low level of evaluation of the media by the American public is well documented by these two ongoing Gallup surveys. These surveys also document that the decline in trust and confidence in the media is accompanied by drops in trust and confidence in other American institutions and in government itself.

The reports from these Gallup surveys leave unanswered a number of questions, which are addressed in this Kettering Foundation Working Paper by Lee B. Becker and Mengtian Chen. Are the two Gallup surveys unusual, or do other surveys of American public opinion show the same picture? Do the declines in public confidence in the media deviate from the overall trend for other institutions in any way, or do these simply reflect general patterns that are largely out of the control of the media institutions? If the declines in public evaluations of the media deviate from general patterns in any way, what might explain those deviations?

The report concludes that it remains unclear what can be done—if anything—to address this loss of confidence but suggests improvements in assessments on the part of the public of journalists and their organizations and exploration of alternatives to traditional journalism and traditional media organizations as a means of delivering news to citizens. 

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