It’s All Journalism: Mistrust of the media isn’t new, but it’s getting worse

The American public’s distrust of the media is not new. Neither is it surprising, says Kyle Pope, publisher and editor-in-chief of the Columbia Journalism Review.

Kyle Pope

But how bad is it? And what do people outside the media bubble think about how journalists do their job?

The level of trust in the media seems to have taken a bit of a nosedive around the time of the stock market crash in 2008 and it hasn’t rebounded, according to a recent wide-reaching survey conducted by CJR in partnership with Reuters/Ipsos.

The 4,214 respondents, split roughly in half between self-identifying Republicans and Democrats, did provide a few surprising answers, such as indicating that TMZ and the National Enquirer were more representative of the mainstream media that Rachel Maddow on MSNBC or Vice News.

“What took us back the most was, we tried to think of some fundamental misconceptions about how reporters do their jobs,” Pope says. “We asked, ‘do you think reporters are paid by their sources.’ You and I know that’s a taboo that doesn’t happen by reputable news organizations, but 60 percent of the people overall said they thought we were paid. It’s overwhelmingly believed by Republicans, 70 percent, but more than half the Democrats, 54 percent, think reporters get paid by their sources sometimes or often. That’s really stark.”

The survey, published in CJR’s print magazine, indicates Americans have lost their trust in many public institutions, including schools, universities, religion, corporations and Congress, just as much as they’ve stopped trusting the news media, he says.

“I think a lot of news consumers decided the news business was part of the power structure of America that wasn’t working for them. I think they’re on to something. I think journalism, for a time, lost its way. I think the press in general … (are) paying the price for it.”

As much as the press wants to point the finger of blame at the president, Pope says Trump has only given a name and a platform to something people have felt for a long time.

“What he did was put a language to it and he made it — I believe it is arguably the central plank of his presidency,” Pope says. “His focus on the media as a foil or even as an enemy has been the one consistent thing he’s carried through his presidency and I have no doubt it’s going to continue for the rest of it.”

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