Happy Talk Fails To Translate To Trust
In a result sure to please Aaron Sorkin's rapidfire Newsroom brain (what's left after years of abuse), Americans told Gallup that they have by and large lost confidence in television news (and lots of other institutions). Only 21% of the thousand or so adults polled said they had "a great deal" or "a lot" of confidence in television news, continuing a steady decline from the 46% who expressed high confidence 20 years ago.
Of 16 U.S. institutions in the survey -- that included the police, schools, small and big biz, the church, the Supreme Court, banks, and medicine -- newspapers ranked tenth, television news eleventh. Staging a remarkable comeback from the Vietnam era, Abu Ghraib and Wikileaks, the military ranked as the most trusted institution, with a 75% confidence rating. Not surprisingly, Congress is the least trusted institution, with a 13% confidence rating. Good thing advertising was not on the list.
The scary part of all of this (the military ranked at No 1 notwithstanding) is that if folks no longer trust newspapers and TV news, whom DO they trust for reasonably accurate information? I suspect the Internet since that's where we spend all of our time now -- especially our kids, who would rather get a text message than a life-saving heart transplant.
Funny thing is that most of the news we read online is simply repurposed from the offline news organizations that nobody trusts anymore. But unfortunately there is no "truth filter" for Internet stories, and there’s more misinformation and outright bullshit online than ever before. This is especially troublesome for younger generations who didn't grow up pondering multiple accounts of the same story from newspapers, newsmagazines, broadcast and cable news so that they could spot nuanced differences that could point them to something resembling real accuracy.
If another of my kids sends me an unquestioned link from Buzzfeed or HuffPo as a source to support one of their uninformed arguments, I swear I'm gonna smack them with, yes, a copy of The New York Times.
The Internet and its economic impact on the biz aside, I think news organization largely have themselves to blame for this crisis in confidence, since they pandered to the lowest common denominator in an effort to lift ratings and/or newsstand sales. Run a story on foreign affairs and the silence is deafening. Run a stupid celebrity divorce story and stand back from the rampage.
"Our audience votes with its pocketbook" is the rationalization for dumbing down the news. "We are giving them what they will pay for." And who can blame news organizations for chasing the money? After all, Pulitzers don't pay anyone's salary. But the net result is a constant erosion of confidence in the thing most important to any news organization: trust.
While soft news is a welcome relief from economic and weather-related disasters and anything about the endless presidential campaign, there is just so much of it you can cram into 22 minutes and still maintain any dignity. Making matters worse is that it seems anything captured on user-generated video -- however idiotic -- now makes the story list.
There was no distinction made between national and local news in the poll. But local TV (and often print) news is a cesspool of pet parades, fender benders, astounding glimpses into the obvious (yes, they are sad a relative was murdered; yes, they too think it is hot out today, my, my) and mindless blathering banter between anchors and weather and sport reporters. I suspect that if the survey had broken out national from local, the news might have crept up a spot or two. Not that you can trust all national news -- as Fox has so brilliantly proven time and again.
It takes a very long time for institutions to build trust. It will be interesting to see what the news business will do to recapture it. Film at ll.