It Must Be True, I Saw It On TV
So America's bottom line seems to be accuracy. But in whose hands? Take the same who, what, when, where, and how and put it into five different hands, you will get 5 different interpretations of those "facts" that will give each story a slightly different tint. I think that if it comes from a publication/program that a reader likes (meaning it generally skews pretty close to their own personal perspectives, biases and stereotypes) then the reader would probably say they "got it right." After all, readers are no more objective than are reporters.
But "journalism" didn't do itself any favors when in response to cable news which delivered the news sooner (and with video) it decided to give reporters a "voice" to try and distinguish its stories from the historically anonymous "staff" byline. And when that failed, organizations built from the ground up to gather hard news starting moving more toward "back of the book" coverage of lifestyle issues like health, beauty, fashion, entertainment -- and worst of all, celebrity. Makeover followed makeover until there was hardly any room anymore for important news, so some "news" operations set up camp to the political left or right to set themselves apart. Personalities became more important than the subjects they covered. Q ratings ruled. Lurid celebrity photos became the new gold standard of successful publishing.
Then the Internet happened.
I think folks who are a little more serious about news "objectivity" (let's call them current newspaper subscribers, a dying breed to be sure) are careful to click through and make certain that what they read is coming from a credible source. A credible source is no longer just the dead tree news industry, but often can include bloggers (many of whom come from dead tree backgrounds) who still know how to produce copy that is relatively free of partisan perspective. Or at least they make no secret that they have a strong opinion and that theirs is but one perspective to consider.
The problem now is everyone else. The vast percentage of people in this country get their news from television without thinking for a moment that news from Viacom might have a purposely different tint than Fox or CNBC. Moreover, they don't then take the time to read a variety of publications (now easier than ever) in order to rebalance what they've heard on TV. Or they catch a snippet online without considering the source and walk away thinking they are informed.
There has never been a time in history when the news was entirely accurate or objective. A confluence of factors has all but forced those who at least in theory TRY to practice journalism -- as we came to define it 50 years ago -- to be more subjective and opinionated. This, perhaps more than anything, contributes to the Pew results. But the fact is that even in the golden age of news (call it the 60s if you will) if you relied on just TIME or The Washington Post or even The New York Times, you only got a piece of the puzzle. It has always been incumbent on those who seek the truth (to the extent it exists) to broaden their reading and to get a well-rounded perspective on any story -- especially ones with controversy and varied POVs. The Internet now makes it easy to read foreign newspapers and journals, many of which have a totally different take on the news than U.S. papers or broadcasters.
Journalists are an easy target, and to an extent, they have themselves to blame for the public's negative perception -- but I suspect that if some of that public got off their butts and did a little more homework, they might come to appreciate what a free press, warts and all, is all about.