2007 was the year of Facebook, according to one media commentator. Newspapers now have little choice but to adapt to the online world. The days of print may never end, but they’re certainly in serious decline. But more fundamental questions remain. How does the American consumer actually view the products they’re consuming?
The Pew Research Center has tracked perceptions of the press among U.S. adults for more than two decades, asking the same questions over time. Some trends speak volumes:
• In 1985, when asked whether news organizations “get the facts straight” or are “often inaccurate,” 55 percent chose the former option and 34 percent the latter. This past July, when Pew asked this question, the responses were almost exactly reversed: 39 percent said news media get facts straight and 53 percent said they often don’t.
• In 1985, when asked whether news organizations were “moral” or “immoral” in their practices, 54 percent indicated the former, 13 percent the latter, and 33 percent said neither or that they weren’t sure. This past July, 46 percent said news media were moral while nearly a third, 32 percent, said immoral.
• In 1985, when asked whether news organizations “are pretty independent” or are “often influenced by powerful people and organizations,” 37 percent chose the former option and 53 percent the latter. That wasn’t good for the press then. It’s even worse now: In July, 69 percent said news media are often influenced by powerful actors and institutions.
• Finally, in 1985, when asked whether news organizations “protect democracy” or “hurt democracy,” 54 percent chose the former option and 23 percent the latter. In July, only 44 percent said news media protect democracy, while more than a third, 36 percent, said news media hurt democracy.
Sadly, most journalists are woeful at self-reflection and remain defensive when challenged on the failings of the industry. Personally speaking, most reporters I’ve known over the years prefer to be players, close to establishment power and happy to ignore a healthy distance between themselves and the power elite.
We all suffer as a result.