Friday, July 10, 2009

Public Trust in the News

Interesting report out, sponsored by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, that looks at the public trust in journalism. Summary here, full report here.

Those studied do not think journalists are dishonest so much as they find the product of journalism dishonest in that it's either confusing or fails to ring true when it describes the world in which they live. People could find more "useful, reliable, or amusing information elsewhere" (to quote the executive summary).

In place of individual medium loyalties (newspaper, TV news, etc.), people instead describe a "crowded media environment" that ranges from the silly to the serious. The three concepts of useful, reliable, and amusing show up in comments by real people, in one form or another. People, confronted with all this information, aren't sure who to believe. Adding my own here, I suspect that's one of the reasons we find people who claim to help it all make sense, from Jon Stewart to Rush Limbaugh, are quite successful today. They'll make sense of it all for you, even if one might quibble with the way, the fairness, of the sense they make.

There's a bit of political knowledge aspects here if you read carefully. Many people were confused in the U.S. presidential election. They simply don't know the backstory and often news accounts are written (or produced) with that assumption in mind. I've seen this myself as my teenage son struggles with a printed news story. The inverted pyramid simply confuses him because he's not starting with the prior knowledge necessary to make sense of a summary lede, which focuses on the latest information on top. Political knowledge suffers. People get frustrated. They look elsewhere for "sense making," often places where sense and sensible are not necessarily the same thing (i.e., Sean Hannity). And yet, and yet.

There's a lot here to digest and what I see reminds me of some other recent work. More on this report later, I hope.

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