Wednesday, December 20, 2006

 

Restoring Trust in the News Media

Over the past 10 years, study after study has found that American citizens are losing confidence in the news media.

The downward trend began in the 1980’s and gained steam in the 1990’s, long-before the Jayson Blair scandal at the New York Times gave the credibility of large newspapers a black eye.

Finding ways to restore the public's trust in the news media is the purpose of public issue forum materials developed by the Kettering Foundation and being delivered in southwest Missouri by University of Missouri Extension.

Free resources any individual or group can use to conduct an issue forum or study circle on “News Media and Society” can now be found at http://extension.missouri.edu/swregion/news.

A series of six news media issue forums were held in Springfield, Mo back in 2003. A total of 95 people attended and deliberated all sides of this issue before making choices and finding common ground.

It was apparent from the forum’s beginning that a majority of citizens no longer trust the news media.

Some citizens think the news media covers up real stories for the sake of owners or advertisers.

Others find liberal bias in much of what is written and said (or left out). Still others find the news sensationalized and hyped for the sole purpose of profit. Meanwhile, others say the news media is nothing but entertainment while the real hard issues of our culture get ignored.

Over 80 percent of participants agreed that irresponsible journalists are eroding public trust in the news media. The blame, however, was placed on owners, with 85 percent of participants saying the news media is "more concerned with profits than with public service."

There was also universal agreement that the “failure” of America’s news media is a serious challenge to the functioning of our democracy. However, there was some difference regarding the source of the news media’s failure and few solid solutions on how to fix it.

Only 15 percent of participants agreed with licensing journalists like lawyers and teachers.

"The ownership of too much of the media industry rests in a handful of huge companies," was agreed with by 85 percent of forum participants. There was support for public broadcasting, with 48 percent supporting more funding (although the issue of tax money being used was a concern).

There was support for making the media more accountable to the public interests, but no suggestions of how this could be accomplished without additional government involvement.

The idea of “getting citizens involved” with the news media was the most appealing to participants. However, it was not without concerns. There was agreement that citizens need to engage the news media more and take a more active role.

There was also agreement that the news media needs to do a better job of listening to the citizens of their community. In fact, 93 percent of forum participants agreed, "the local media should initiate community discussions of civic issues in their communities."

This issue of restoring the public trust is a serious one for the future of our nation's democracy. It is serious for the news media too, especially when you consider that 50 percent of participants agreed with giving the federal government power to “more strictly regulate the news media."
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