What’s that saying again? “Don’t believe everything you hear or read?” There was a time not so long ago when the “Read all about it!” that rang from newsstands on busy city streets, or “And that’s the way it is,” the catchphrase of legendary Walter Cronkite for the CBS Evening News, elicited trust that the news reported was based on facts … not self-serving spin.
According to an article in New York Magazine using Gallup poll information, 69% of people polled in 1974 said they trusted the media. This was the year when we saw historic investigative reporting from the Washington Post into the Watergate Scandal that brought down President Richard Nixon. The article goes on to note that now “the only institutions Americans have less faith in than television news (21%) and newspapers (20%) are Congress and “big business.” Ouch!
Having worked in media for several decades, I was particularly eager to see what the national sentiment was for myself. I asked which news source people trusted most, throughout our 800+ polling sites across the country.
The Results Are In!
Our research not only supports the Gallup polls, but we also break down the media and demographics in much more detail.
The vast majority of people we asked don’t trust ANY media! Of those who do trust some media, the most trusted news source is LOCAL TV News, coming in at 12%. The national broadcast and cable news networks are neck and neck with regional and local newspapers, just as close to digital-only news sites. Our platform lets us go deeper into the answers for some interesting insights about the people who responded to each. Let’s first look at the elephant in the room.
Who Are the Non-Trusters?
These are the folks who do not trust any media to deliver unbiased news.
They consider themselves to be politically independent or are registered Republicans – which may be reflective of the current political climate. These people are more likely to make decisions objectively (You don’t say?!). They are more likely to be men, college grads, and live in the U.S. South. They are more likely to drive a truck. They tend to be more price-conscious. They are also more likely to volunteer at least once a week. Religion is very important to them by a long shot (26%) when compared with any of the other media answer choices. Compared to the people who do trust a news media source, those who don’t are more likely to expect their personal financial situation to decline over the next 6 months.
Another interesting point is that they are less likely to try new products before other people do (could be that “trust” thing again).
Those Who Trust Local TV News
Certainly, these folks are concerned about crime and violence in their communities. They are also concerned about the economy. They are more likely to be women, and parents.
Religion is important to them (at a tie of 80% with Cable Network News). They make decisions based on how they feel. They are less likely to be college graduates, and are more likely to eat fast food at least once per month.
Cable Network News
People who trust Cable Network News read political websites and blogs. The majority of them fit into the broad category of students, homemakers, or those who are retired. They are also more likely to be grandparents.
They do not lean politically toward the Democratic party. They are less likely to be registered Independents or concerned about environmental issues. They are more likely to be religious, as mentioned above.
Those Who Trust Broadcast Network News
City dwellers are more likely to answer Broadcast Network News. Like the people who trust Cable Network News, the majority of them are in the category of retired, student or homemaker. Those who approve of the job Barack Obama is doing as President are 5x as likely to answer Broadcast Network news. They are concerned about income equality in the U.S., and are concerned about environmental issues. People who lean politically toward the Democratic party are more likely to say they trust Broadcast Network News. They are less likely to live in the U.S. West. They are more likely to purchase environmentally friendly products. Another surprising insight… they are more likely to closely follow the NHL.
Those Who Trust National Newspapers
They are less likely to be religious, and are more likely to live in the US South. This group is less likely to be concerned with national security issues or with the U.S. federal deficit. It is very interesting that when comparing this answer with “What best describes your current employment status?” the people in this group are the only ones who had not one response as being “unemployed.” This could be attributed to them having the highest levels of education. Also, the majority of them describe their current occupation as professional/manager.
Regional and Local Newspapers
People who answer that they trust regional and local newspapers are more likely to live in the U.S. Northeast and less likely to live in the U.S. Midwest. They are more likely to be employed. They are less likely to read political websites and blogs. People who buy environmentally friendly products are more likely to say they trust regional and local newspapers. They are also concerned about income equality in the U.S. Certainly, they are very likely to subscribe to a print newspaper.
Those Who Trust Digital News Sites
They are likely to rent their homes and go to the movies at least once per month and eat fast food at least once per month. Of the people who responded that they trusted digital-only sites, they had the highest percentage of people who responded “unemployed,” compared to the other media answer choices. People who read political websites and blogs are more than twice as likely to answer Digital-only news sites. They are more likely to believe that their personal financial situation will stay the same over the next 6 months. Not a good outlook for the large group that is unemployed.
Social Media Posts
Of the people who say they most trust social media posts to deliver unbiased news, the majority say they expect their personal finances will improve over the next 6 months. This connection between optimism and trust in social media is interesting, and it may prove useful to delve into this link at a later time. I found it very surprising that 66% of these people say they do not enjoy interacting with people whose opinions are different from their own – another link that may be interesting to look into further. They are also more likely to live in the U.S. Midwest.
Even though there is a majority of people that don’t trust any media to deliver unbiased news, many still choose a media news source for breaking news. These people are most likely to choose a national news website first for breaking news, followed closely by a local news channel.
At the End of the Day
We depend on the media to keep us informed whether we are in a national or international crisis, a natural disaster, or even amidst a Presidential election season. I find it pretty concerning that we have so many choices for news, and yet we largely don’t have faith in any of them. While this has been the case for a while, it is especially apparent in today’s extremely combative political climate. There are still 43% of people that trust some form of media to deliver unbiased news. However, they are incredibly fragmented.
What can the news media do to rebuild trust again?
Well, they might want to take a look at the news media that has garnered the highest trust level and that is local TV news. Equally interesting is that local TV news is also the top choice among those who trust some news media for where they go first for breaking news and comes in a strong second for those who don’t trust any news media. Hmmm. It could well be true that the majority of people just want the facts, not the commentary. People want to trust that the reporters did their job and gathered all of the information possible to report the complete story…not just the part that is designed to support a specific agenda. Give the people the facts and let them form their own opinions. Maybe there is a modern day Walter Cronkite out there somewhere.
“And that’s the way it is.”