Americans Sick Of Gossip, Sports In News Coverage, Want More Substance

If you think some topics receive way too much attention in news coverage, you’re not alone. Per a new online survey of 2,537 adults conducted by the Harris Poll in August, a large proportion of Americans are fed up with news coverage that skews toward the sensational, superficial, and sports-centric.

The Harris Poll found that 76% of U.S. adults surveyed believe that celebrity gossip and scandal stories receive too much coverage, while 49% believe that entertainment news in general gets too much attention. Meanwhile, 44% believe that the news focuses too much on professional spectator sports, and 33% believe the same for politics and elections.

Other topics receive too little attention, according to the Harris respondents, including humanitarian issues in the U.S., cited by 47%; education, also 47%; science, at 45%; government corruption and scandals, at 44%; corporate corruption and white collar crime, at 42%; global humanitarian issues, at 33%; and health, at 30%.

Harris found there is some variation across generations when it comes to attitudes toward news, although there is still broad agreement on some basic trends. Thus, 88% of older Americans believe celebrity gossip receives too much coverage, sliding to 79% of baby boomers, 76% of Gen Xers, and 68% of millennials.

On the other hand, 59% of older Americans believe that government corruption receives too little coverage, compared to 41% for Baby Boomers, 39% of Gen Xers, and 41% of millennials. Millennials are more likely to believe international issues receive too little coverage.

Americans seem to be fairly skeptical about the reliability of news media, with only a relatively small proportion of respondents saying they have “a lot of trust” in various news sources, although a larger share expressed some amount of trust.

Here, 25% of respondents expressed great confidence in local TV news, versus 53% who said they have “some trust” and 17% who said they had little or no trust. For local newspapers, the proportions were 21%, 55%, and 19%, respectively; for radio, 16%, 57%, and 20%; for cable TV news, 15%, 51%, and 28%; for national newspapers, 16%, 50%, and 27%; and for network TV news, 17%, 48%, and 30%.

Online news ranked lowest in terms of trust, although sites associated with long-established news media have somewhat more credibility. For online news sites tied to traditional outlets, 17% expressed a great deal of trust, 50% some trust, and 26% little or no trust. For pure online-only news sites, the proportions were 11%, 50%, and 32%.

5 comments about "Americans Sick Of Gossip, Sports In News Coverage, Want More Substance".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, October 21, 2014 at 7:41 p.m.

    If the same kinds of questions were asked about TV's "entertainment" shows I would expect that the majority of respondents would be "fed up" with silly reality shows, sappy sitcoms, bogus Sci-fi series, etc. etc. Yet, until they stop watching the shows they say they are fed up with---whether they be news or entertainment----- none of these complaints, which are quite predictable, have much meaning.

  2. Chuck Hildebrandt from Self, October 22, 2014 at 9:07 a.m.

    I think that's true to a point, Ed. Because the entertainment shows are so cheap to produce, it doesn't take nearly as high a rating to turn a profit as it used to, so networks can trot out the shows even though only a sliver of people are watching. So while a lot of people have stopped watching, it's not enough to splash red ink on the networks.

    On another hand, I would bet you a dollar to a dime that a specific bias (which has a name I can't remember) has crept into the poll: the bias in which people want to look smarter, or at least more erudite, in public than they behave in private. So they may say to a pollster they want more humanitarian issues covered on the news, but when they're home alone watching, they lean forward when the story about Brangelina comes on.

  3. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, October 22, 2014 at 10:38 a.m.

    Quite right, Chuck. People always color their responses to such surveys so they impress the interviewers or researchers. A classic case was a study in Minneapolis, years ago, where adults who had just filled out TV home diaries indicating what shows they watched over the course of a week, were interviewed by another party as to their viewing preferences. In the latter study, news shows, documentaries, and the like scored very well relative to standard entertainment pap, however, when the actual diary records supplied by the same respondents were tallied, the vast majority of their viewing time was devoted to the pap. Even now, we see CNN lurching away from straight news reporting to reality fare and wall -to -wall coverage of so-called crises, some of which are manufactured by such extensive and sensationalist coverage. Result: for the time being, at least, CNN has been reaching more viewers per minute than before.

  4. Scott Gilbert from The Radio Mall, October 22, 2014 at 2:59 p.m.

    Newscasts long ago gave up bringing us real news; KPRC TV in Houston on a Monday night, the second story was about a dog biting someone. The LEAD story the next night was a dog bit a dog. They have everything in the world going on, but the most important story on Earth in a Top 10 market was that a dog bit another dog? The truth is that the powers that be don't want an educated and aware populace as it would really mess up their grabbing billions of dollars.

  5. Robin Solis from synchronicity.co, October 22, 2014 at 9:05 p.m.

    Ed Papazian - I fell for CNN's recent/latest branding slogan too - for about a day. So the norms are going to watch for a few weeks wondering why CNN is the "Fastest Growing News Network" or whatever it was.

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