Public Distrust of Media Reflection

Photo by Filip Mishevski on Unsplash

In August of 2020, Pew Research Center released an American-based study stating that 55% of Americans say that they distrust the media because of careless reporting and 44% of Americans say that they believe that the media intentionally misleads the public.

Although “fake news” is seen as a fairly modern term, public distrust in the media has been around for decades. So where does this distrust stem from?

The film Shattered Glass follows 25-year-old associate editor for The New Republic newspaper, Stephen Glass, as he cons his way into the journalism world by fabricating stories and presenting them as facts. Glass started working at The New Republic in 1995 and was fired in 1998 after he confessed. It was later revealed that a shocking 36 out of his 41 published articles contained some aspect of fabricated material.

Glass threw away his potential media success after failing to recognize the responsibility and integrity that every journalist should possess. The film depicts Glass incessantly lying in order to work his way towards success. It seems as if young Glass struggles with poor self-esteem, and because of this he does whatever is necessary to feel accepted — gaining the trust and respect of his co-workers — and eventually ends up lying his way out of a job.

Stories like the Steven Glass case, along with several other similar reports of unethical decisions in journalism or stories of deceit in the news media have resulted in the public distrusting the news. In addition, many American presidents, such as Richard Nixon and Donald Trump, have spoke out against the press and warned citizens to not believe the bias and lies.

As a Columbia Journalism Review wording it, ““The media” is more responsible, more accurate, more informed by sophisticated analysis (rather than partisan reflex) than it has ever been before. But political opinion has grown more polarized. And that is reinforced by the press: as the once-reliable business model of news gathering disintegrates, polarized politics becomes, sadly, a delicious topic for highly competitive outlets to report on.”

A poll conducted by Gallup and the Knight Foundation which was released a few months ago discovered that 69% of Americans say they are concerned about bias in the news other people are getting, while 29% say they are concerned about their own news being biased. The study goes on to report that 54% of people believe that reporters intentionally misrepresent facts and 28% of people believe that reporters make up the facts entirely.

Though the bias is there and stereotypes are difficult to change overnight, there are ways that journalists can increase the public’s faith in news media. The six “conditions of trust”, which was initially published by the Agora Journalism Center at the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communications, outlines strategies for journalists to use to build trust with the public.

The report lists the six qualities as: authenticity, transparency, consistency, positivity, diversity and shared mission. Journalists should strive to be the best they can be and ethically report despite possible temptations to do otherwise. We must realize that trust is something to earn rather than receive. If ever in doubt about the ethics of a certain scenario, it is helpful to refer to the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics, or consult a co-worker in the field for advice.

As journalists we need to support and encourage one another, taking pride in our career field and the truthfulness behind the stories we report. We need to fact-check, and write with honesty and integrity. We need to treat the public with respect, and prove to them that we will strive to be the best we can be.

Journalism LU ‘21