Some heartening news for those in the newspaper and TV News industries. Gallup’s annual poll of the public’s confidence in institutions has found that Americans’ confidence in newspapers and TV News is up on last year. Twenty-eight percent of those interviewed for the poll said they had a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in newspapers, compared to 25 percent last year; the jump for TV news was from 22 percent to 27 percent.
While heartening, those figures aren’t much to sing about. They’re still well down on nineties levels and, according to Gallup’s findings, newspapers ranked tenth in terms of confidence among sixteen institutions, while TV News ranked behind at eleventh. (The military was number one, small business number two, and Congress last, naturally.) But good news is hard to come by in this racket and the poll at least hints at progress. Gallup will release a more comprehensive report on trust in the mass media this September, but Gallup’s Lymari Morales writes that the latest data “suggest that audiences may be coming to terms with the new media landscape, granting news organizations a little more goodwill in the process.”
There are a few interesting side findings if you look closely at the numbers. As Morales notes, the “eighteen to twenty-nine” age bracket turned up the most mixed change in confidence levels, year-on-year. That group showed a ten-point jump in confidence in TV news but also a ten-point drop in confidence in newspapers. Interesting that the youngest and most web-native group is the one losing faith in dead-tree news sources, though the precipitousness of the fall is striking. The jump in faith in TV news is even more perplexing.
Morales also writes: “Interestingly, considering the highly polarized nature of cable news, all ideological groups increased their confidence in television news to about the same degree.” That polarization might be responsible for the rise in confidence. The trends suggest that increasingly people turn to news sources that reinforce their ideological views, both online and on TV. A worrying extension of this might be that as they turn to ideology-reinforcing sources, their confidence in those sources increases. The operative word there is “might”; this is pure speculation.
But perhaps most interesting is that the Gallup poll is based on phone interviews with a random sample of 1,020 adults, eighteen and over, that were conducted between June 9 and 12. The Monday of that week, June 6, was the day Andrew Breitbart published the shirtless picture of Anthony Weiner that led to the congressman finally admitting to his “sexting” and ultimately, to his resignation ten days later.
According to Pew, from June 6 to June 12—the last day of Gallup’s interviews—the Weiner saga accounted for 17 percent of the “newshole.” It was the number one story of the week, ahead of the economy (11 percent), Middle East unrest (11 percent), the 2012 election (8 percent), and Arizona’s wildfires (4 percent). When you break it down to look at how the increasingly trusted TV news and newspapers covered the Weiner scandal you find cable news devoted 33 percent of its coverage to the story, network news 14 percent, and newspapers 7 percent. There’s no proof of any causal relationship here, of course, but it’s fascinating that when interviewed during the peak of the Weiner scandal, when many of us had our heads buried in our hands sobbing about the state of the media, those interviewed expressed an increased level of confidence in this institution.
For the record, Gallup’s confidence poll last year was taken during a week dominated by coverage of the gulf oil spill. The headline then was “In U.S., Confidence in Newspapers TV News Remains a Rarity.”