“You lie” our opinion of news media?

A Pew study says regard for the news hits a new low.

Representative Joe Wilson of South Carolina didn’t do himself any favors last week by shouting “you lie” during President Obama’s speech on healthcare. He was scolded on both sides of the aisle; his potential opponent in the next election raised hundreds of thousands of dollars; and he has had to craft a variety of apologies.

Interestingly, though, a new study on the news media from The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press suggests that many of us may be prone to blurting our own “you lie” statement when it comes to different news sources.

The Pew study, which has been done periodically since 1985, notes that just 29% of Americans now believe that news organizations generally get the facts straight, and that 63% of us believe that stories are often inaccurate.

Juxtapose this with the 1985 numbers. Then, 55% of Americans said that news outlets get the facts straight, and 34% said stories were often inaccurate. There has been a comparable shift in views of the press’s independence. Nearly three quarters (74%) now say news organizations are influenced by powerful people and organizations compared with 20% who say they are pretty independent. In 1985, by a far smaller margin, more said that news organizations were influenced by the powerful than said they were pretty independent (53% to 37%).

Sixty percent of us now think that news organizations are politically biased, and there are significant partisan gaps in the opinions of different media outlets. Republicans, for example, rate Fox News favorably 73% of the time, compared to 43% for democrats. Democrats (75%) rate CNN favorably, with only 44% of republicans holding the same opinion. The divisions also hold for print media: twice as many republicans hold a negative opinion of The New York Times as democrats. Interestingly, however, The Wall Street Journal and NPR garnered relatively favorable opinions from members of both parties.

But partisan opinions dissipate when it comes to local news. Both republicans and democrats tend to rank local TV news favorably (79% and 77% respectively), and 65% of respondents have favorable opinions of local newspapers.

Where we get our news.

The Pew study also noted some interesting trends in where we’re getting our news. Television is still king, with 71% of respondents saying it was their main source for national and international news, and 64% saying it’s their go-to resource for local news. For national and international news, though, the gap between TV and the internet is closing: 70% of those younger than 30 say they get most of their national and international news from television, but nearly as many (64%) cite the internet as their primary source. Among those ages 30 to 49 a similar pattern is evident; 62% get most national and international news from television, while 54% say the internet.

For the first time last December, more people in a Pew study said they get their international and national news from the internet rather than newspapers, and that trend continued (42% to 33%). However, for local news, newspapers still hold a strong second place. Forty-one percent of respondents say newspapers are their source for local news, compared to just 17% for the internet.

Respondents said that TV (44%) was the local news source that did the most to uncover and report on important local issues, followed by newspapers (25%), news websites (11%), and radio (10%).

So, with people becoming increasingly skeptical of news quality and partisanship, does that mean we’re done with the media? Not really. Most people (about 70 to 80 percent) still say that if TV news operations and newspapers shut down, it would be considered a major loss.

What this means to marketers.

The increase in skepticism among Americans regarding the news comes from a variety of factors, including the fact that compared to 1985, most Americans have access to more news sources, many of which may have widely varying political stances or information sources. This is a double-edged sword; more news can mean a better informed public, but additional sources can also create more confusion.

And it may be that even with more sources, we’re getting less actual news, as described in our previous post, “More news outlets. Fewer news choices.” (This post also provides some ideas for dealing with this.) Smaller news staffs, especially with newspapers and local outlets, compound this issue.

So the need to create your own news presence through your website, blog, social media, and other sources is growing in importance—provided you do it in a way that avoids the skepticism and “you lie” mentality we seem to be developing for our traditional news sources.

Want to know more about managing your news? Click here or call 865.330.0033.