A Gallup poll just released shows that Americans' confidence in news media continues to decline. A startling 18 percent of Americans say they have a great deal of confidence in what they see on TV news, and only a small number more -- 22 percent -- say they have confidfence in what they read in newspapers.
Surprisingly, to me at least, almost the same percentage of people -- 19 percent -- say they have confidence in what they read in online news sites.
The small vote of confidence in online news has remained the same since 1999, when Gallup last included internet news in the poll. What's upsetting to me is the sharp drop in confidence in so-called traditional news sources like newspapers and TV, which had been in the mid-30 percent range 15 years ago.
Gallup says confidence in newspapers has dropped by more than half since its peak, which was 51 percent in 1979. TV news had its highest vote of consumer confidence in 1993, when it stood at 46 percent.
Some of the decline, Gallup says, is due to increasing political polarization in the U.S. Liberals are a bit more trusting of the media than conservatives, which had a small impact on the overall numbers. But Gallup also attributes the decline to the changes in where we get our news and the proliferation of news sources. Even as newspapers fold, more and more cable outlets have news reporting. And where we used to have 3 or 4 major TV news sources and our local daily paper, there are now so many more places where we can get our news, especially online and on cable.
I have to blame some of the decline on the owners of papers and TV outlets, who too often sacrifice quality reporting for the bottom line. The beancounters force cuts in their reporting staffs, which leads to less coverage and sometimes less accurate reporting. That, coupled with the constant battle to be first, causes mistakes to be made. And every time a network or a major paper has to recant a story or admit they missed some details, the news consumers lose confidence.
It may be a cycle from which there's no jumping off. Time will tell.