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Trust People Have In Media Is A Partisan Issue

Dec 22, 2017

It’s been a crazy year in the media, and one in which journalists found their credibility constantly challenged. 

And it’s not just the administration of President Donald Trump that has its doubts, according to a new survey on media trust.

The 2017 Poynter Media Trust Survey found that partisan beliefs have a lot to do with how much trust a person has in the media. 

More than 70 percent of people who identify with the Democratic Party trust the media, the report said. By comparison, just 22 percent of people who are Republican trust news organizations.

“If you’re a Republican and you’re a news junkie, you definitely don’t trust the news,” said Kelly McBride of the Poynter Institute for Media Studies. “If you’re a Democrat and you’re a news junkie, you most likely do trust the news.”

This lack of trust – and the partisan divide – can be seen in the recent attempt by a conservative political group to go undercover and try to embarrass reporters from the Washington Post. Staff members from Project Veritas posed as people with information about former Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, and wanted a story published quoting them anonymously.

However, McBride said, the Post reporters followed the newspaper’s protocol for verifying information from anonymous sources. And once they grew suspicious, they ended up publishing a story exposing the attempt to undermine their work.

“All of mainstream media came out of that (experience) looking pretty good, because the methods the Post uses are the same methods that journalists across the country use when an anonymous source approaches them with a story,” McBride said.

McBride added that the Post’s editor, Marty Baron, acknowledges that the paper can do more to instill trust. He is challenging his staff to be more transparent with the audience about how it is reporting a story. Also, the Post is trying to better label stories on its website so it’s clearer when an article is news or opinion.

That’s important as journalists everywhere will make mistakes. While most errors are innocuous and corrected quickly, McBride said, there are times when all journalist credibility is undermined by the act of a few outliers. For example, ABC News reporter Brian Ross was suspended for a month for inaccurately reported information related to the investigation into Russia and the 2016 presidential election. 

That kind of error tarnishes all reporters, McBride said and may be behind the Poynter study finding that 44 percent of all respondents in the survey said journalists routinely make things up.

“That’s profoundly disturbing. In my experience, journalists rarely make things up. It’s the outlier, like Jason Blair of the New York Times …who was a serial fabricator who makes things up,” she said. “It’s not everyday journalists.”