Traverse City Record-Eagle

August 28, 2012

Another View: Decline in news credibility ratings

By The Free Press, Mankato, Minn.
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---- — This is a good time to ask: What does the public's growing skepticism on the trustworthiness of news organizations mean for the way news is handled? What does it mean for news organizations, and what does it mean for news consumers?

A survey has been released by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press indicating respect for most major news organizations has fallen. The new figures affect major newspapers, all three cable news outlets and TV networks including NPR.

Significant fall-offs in believability ratings affect nine of the 13 news organizations tested.

Every news organization should ask itself why the trend is moving toward more skepticism. Consumers of news, themselves, should ask what part they play in the numbers.

We all know that the days when Americans largely trusted their sources of information are slipping away. There are no Walter Cronkites out there any more — just countless numbers of talking heads, and writers, too, vying for attention in an ever-widening, ever more polarizing, journalistic circle. ...

The Pew Research Center says that across all 13 tested news outlets, the average believability rating is 56 percent — down from 62 percent in 2010 and down from 71 percent a decade ago. Every news organization's rating fell by double digits since 2002 except for daily newspapers and local TV news.

The New York Times, which has often been referred to as America's "newspaper of record," has dropped 13 points in believability since 2004.

Familiarity helps. Perceptions with newspapers "you are most familiar with" is comparable to two years ago (57 percent give their own newspaper a positive rating), and local TV news outlets get higher ratings (65 percent positive) than the major cable outlets.

Even so, no newspaper or TV station should feel comfortable with a three-fifths positive rating. We shouldn't expect everyone to like the news — and there will always be those ready to shoot the messenger. But news organizations that strive for consistency for excellence and fairness, respecting their customers all along the way, should continue to find an audience.

News consumers play an important part. Readers and listeners, rather than simply subscribe to news outlets that tend to confirm their political persuasions, should consider leaning toward those that maintain the best records for accuracy.

The best way for consumers to get good products — like with any other commodity — is to patronize the best products.

-- The Free Press, Mankato, Minn.