Journalism is a vital craft for society. Through the press, citizens have potential allies who scrutinize governments, politicians or companies involved in corruption schemes. In a perfect world, civilians and journalists would be common allies. However, according to the Reuters Institute’s thorough Digital News Report 2021 in 46 countries, Americans trust the media the least.
The data is quite clear: only 29% of Americans trust the media, while 23% say they don’t trust it at all. The other 44 % of Americans say they do not trust the media enough.
The United States was the worst-rated country, second only to France, Hungary and Slovakia with 30%. Finland (65%), Kenya (61%) and Portugal (61%) had the best ratings and far outperformed the American media.
Trust in the media rises to 44% when people were asked whether they trust their usual news sources. However, the trust rating remains low.
Local TV media (58%) scored better ratings than national media. CBS News (48%), ABC News (48%), BBC News (47%), The Wall Street Journal (46%) and NBC/MSNBC News (46%) were the media most trusted by Americans.
BuzzFeed News (30%), Yahoo News (34%) and Fox News (35%) were the worst rated. CNN, The New York Times, The Washington Post and NPR were in the middle of the table with trust ratings ranging from 45 to 43 percent.
Traffic and viewership: another problem for media outlets
As the study reviews, “online traffic to The New York Times and Washington Post in February 2021 fell sharply from January’s peak – 17% and 26%, respectively – and was also down year-over-year, according to ComScore data. Meanwhile, by mid-March CNN and MSNBC lost 45% and 26% of their prime-time audiences respectively, from highs in January.”
This may be due to Donald Trump’s departure from the presidency, as many Democrats and liberals lost interest in news from the media most critical of the former president.
“Another factor,” the study reads, “may be declining attention to the Coronavirus pandemic; just 31% of US adults were following COVID news closely in a March 2021 Pew survey, down from 37% at the end of November and 57% in March 2020.”
Money is also an inconvenience
The money business is not going very well for the media either. According to the analysis of the Reuters Institute study, a large number of newspapers are closing and more and more jobs are being lost in the industry.
“While the early months of the pandemic coincided with record traffic levels for many news outlets, the loss of advertisers, distribution, events, and other revenue sources took a devastating toll. One consultancy report suggested the media industry lost more than 30,000 jobs in 2020, with national outlets such as BuzzFeed, Vice, Vox, and HuffPost announcing furloughs and layoffs,” read part of the explanation.
“BuzzFeed acquired HuffPost in February but subsequently announced cuts affecting 47 US employees. Local newsrooms faced particularly acute challenges. By February 2021, more than 60 local newsrooms across the country had closed, including those owned by large chains (CNHI) and local families and many that had been operating for more than a century.”
Since 2004, more than 1,800 newspapers have closed in the United States.
A key fact that indicates where the press may be heading is that, for the first time in history, The New York Times‘ earnings from web traffic and subscriptions exceeded physical sales.
“More positively, the New York Times attracted a record 2.3 million digital-only subscriptions in 2020 and, for the first time, saw its digital revenue overtake print. The Washington Post, whose digital subscriptions have reached nearly 3 million, announced in December 2020 that it would add 150 jobs in 2021, resulting in the largest newsroom in the company’s history.”
Why don’t Americans trust the media?
After the publication of the study, it is impossible to ask the question why Americans no longer see journalists as potential allies.
One reason, as explained by the Poynter Institute, “is the extreme political polarization in the United States. This study, like many others, found extremely high levels of distrust: 75% of those who identify as right-wing thought coverage of their views was unfair.”
Columnist Joe Concha wrote in The Hill on the study. There he points to several examples of fake news published in the mainstream media, such as former President Trump’s relationship to the Russian plot, the origins of COVID-19 and several others that were media disinformation scandals.
The partisan behavior of the media, which mostly supports Democrats according to Concha, is one of the reasons that generates distrust for the columnist, but he points out that it was not always this way.
“Back in 1976, in the days of anchors such as Walter Cronkite, John Chancellor, David Brinkley and Roger Mudd, nearly three-quarters of the country trusted the media, according to Gallup. Fast forward to 2021, and the likes of Chris Cuomo, Jim Acosta, Brian Williams and Yamiche Alcindor are given the same prestigious titles of anchor or correspondent,” Concha wrote.
“These aren’t anchors, of course, they’re patently partisan opinion hosts. All share their feelings, their opinions – which always support the blue team – and pass it off as objective news reporting. Which, of course, is an insult to those who have eyes and ears and brains.”John Concha for The Hill
The reality is that on a daily basis the national media and its journalists are publishing reports with disinformation. For example, on June 25, a reporter from The Washington Post tweeted misinformation about Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ response to the Miami building collapse. The journalist has not yet rectified the error.
Likewise, journalist Sharyl Attkisson keeps a list of false media reports regarding former President Trump. The count is at 156 false news.
The situation is critical, currently journalism in the United States is going through a delicate moment in its history. Media outlets are dropping their audience and click-through rates; local media (the ones people trust the most) are closing down because they do not attract enough public interest; and national media are gradually losing their credibility as they embrace political partisanship.