Thursday, December 7, 2017


Public media is all about trust. Viewers, listeners and readers must trust that the water you pour is “pure,” that what you say is not compromised by money our hidden agendas. This begins with telling the truth.

-- Bill Siemering, the architect of NPR News.

A new study exploring the underlying reasons for low trust in the news media and social media seems to verify that public radio news is on the right path when it emphasizes fact-based, storytelling reporting.

The report, Bias, Bullshit and Lies: Audience Perspectives on Low Trust in the Media, by Nic Newman and Richard Fletcher was released in November by Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism [link] at the University of Oxford in the UK. It may be the most exhaustive of its kind.

The Reuters team surveyed several thousand people in nine countries (United States, UK, Ireland, Spain, Germany, Denmark, Australia, France, and Greece).  The researchers asked open-ended questions and respondents replied in their own words. Reuters then categorized the responses to learn specific reasons for trust, or lack of trust, in the news media.

The researchers asked the respondents if they agreed or disagreed with declarative statements about specific journalism practices. This chart provides the summary data for the question The news media does a good job in separating fact from fiction

Around 40% of the respondents from all nine countries agreed with the statement. These respondents felt the statement was true because the basic skills of journalism: checking sources, verifying facts, and providing evidence to back up claims. The chart on the left shows the reporting skills frequently cited by respondents. These perceptions were more often held by older,more affluent people.

The majority of the respondents (around 60%) did not agree with the statement. They perceived bias, spin and agendas by the news providers. Respondents also mentioned that they perceive that powerful people are using the media to push their own political or economic interests. These feelings are most strongly held by those who are young and by those that earn the least. 

In the US, Gallup has shown media trust dropping from half (53%) in 1997 to less than a third (32%) in 2016. But, apparently the US has a news storytelling deficit. Respondents from the US felt storytelling as a way to separate fact from fiction was almost the lowest of the nine countries surveyed.

It is clear US public media, and public radio in particular, needs to more aggressively promote its distinct advantages compared with most other news choices. Storytelling is built deeply into the DNA of public radio news on all levels. Telling the truth matters. Fact-based reporting is the basis of truth.

The Reuters Institute team concluded:

• A significant proportion of news users still say they trust the news media to separate fact from fiction.

• In most of the countries surveyed, respondents perceive growing media partisanship/

• Many respondents felt that the news media does not represent the interests of ordinary people, particularly young respondents with lower incomes.

• Some respondents perceive that changing economic models are lowering journalistic standards.

• Reduced trust in journalism, whether found in mainstream or social media, matters because of its role in supporting the democratic process and informing citizens so they can make choices

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