Widening 'trust gap' between public, media: reports

New poll shows declining trust in traditional media outlets

Accuracy in Media President Adam Guillette reacts to the study on ‘Fox & Friends.’

There is a widening “trust gap” between the public and the media, according to two new reports.

The majority of Americans (67%) believe that facts bring people closer to the truth, but only 29% of Americans believe highlighting the country’s problems will make it a better place, according to a Thursday report from the Media Insight Project.

Americans who value loyalty and authority were less likely to believe there should be watchdogs spotlighting problems with those in power, the Media Insight Project found. Those who value fairness, however, were more likely to believe people should highlight smaller voices.

The moral differences between Americans, therefore, has an impact on which stories Americans think the press should highlight versus ignore — even more so than political differences, according to the report.

“People disagree on facts,” Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) President Matthew T. Hall told Fox News. “Everyone’s priorities are different — that’s human nature. But I think that’s why you’re starting to see people choose news outlets that cater to their world view and stay in their bubble because it’s comfortable, and it’s a very uncomfortable time.”

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He added that between COVID-19 and the conversations about a racial reckoning, Americans are facing “really big, big questions” as a country and as individuals, “so sometimes it’s easier to not be challenged.”

Similarly, the latest Global Trends report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which aims to give policymakers insight into future political, societal and economic shifts, released on April 8 found that the informed public is growing increasingly wary of not only media but government and corporations, as well.

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The global informed public, which the DNI defines as college-educated individuals in the top 25% of household income, has grown over the last 20 years — and as the informed public consumes an increasing amount of media, trust in media and government around the world have faltered, according to the report.

“There really is a firehose of information coming at us every day,” Hall said. “It’s tough to put that in a glass you can drink from.”

Person looking at smartphone. (REUTERS/SeongJoon Cho/Pool)

He added that a lot of the criticism journalists and media outlets receive is not just about what they cover but what they don’t cover. Reporters and institutions “really need to be able to explain to readers” their “news judgment” and why certain stories matter, how they will change over time and how editorial decisions are made.

“Right now, we can’t agree on common sets of facts, so you’re not going to have journalism that everyone will read, listen to or watch and support,” Hall said.

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As a result of a growing lack of trust in media, government and “elites,” societies around the globe will become more likely to break apart into different identities and beliefs “for a sense of security,” the DNI found.

In countries with increasing migration, slowing population growth and other demographic changes, “many people” feeling “displaced by rapid social and economic changes” are embracing ethnicity and nationalism as their identities and “resent” shifts in tradition.

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And social media is fueling people’s desire to align themselves with specific identities and beliefs because it makes the process of connecting with like-minded people easier, therefore also limiting alternative perspectives. Social media algorithms, too, can severely limit the content users see and don’t see, which can drive polarization.

Hall said there are both “big positives and big negatives” to the expansion of social media. On the one hand, smaller, more local voices in media have the opportunity to grow and get attention on a national level to highlight stories from around the world. On the other hand, it allows people to follow and ignore certain news.

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“Get outside your bubble,” Hall recommended, adding that “once you have an understanding of where people are coming from” on a specific topic, “you may disagree with it,” but opening oneself up to a conversation with different perspectives can deepen one’s understanding of their own stance on an issue.

“Everyone is talking about ‘fake news’ and the weaponization of ‘fake news.’ I think if we have more conversations about real news and facts we can agree on, that makes society better for all,” he said.

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