Declining trust in news media – an American perspective

An updated study in the USA shows a worrying decline in public trust in the mainstream news media.

The study by the Gallup polling company and the Knight Foundation, established by the founders of one of the major newspaper chains in America, has tracked this decline since 2017.
It says democracy in America relies on an independent press to inform citizens with accurate information but notes that two forces pose significant challenges to this function: the growing struggle of news organizations to maintain financial independence and the growing distrust of news among the public.

Among other findings, the study notes:

  • Only 26% of Americans have a favourable opinion of the news media, the lowest level Gallup and Knight have recorded in the past five years, while 53% hold an unfavourable view.
  • More Americans of all political affiliations say they hold an unfavourable opinion of the news media compared to a survey conducted in late 2019-early 2020 – a rise especially pronounced among independents but also apparent among Democrats who typically hold more favourable views of the media.
  • Perceptions of political bias in news coverage have also increased, with independents driving the trend, followed by Republicans, then Democrats.
  • Young people continue to hold more negative perceptions of the news media than older generations, confirming previous findings.

Gallup and Knight say the long-term trend on trust in the mainstream media hit a record low in 2020 when for the first time in 40 years the share of Americans with no confidence in the news media surpassed that of people with at least some confidence.
Their findings in that year (2020) showed that Americans were “very concerned” about increasing political bias in news coverage and thought news organizations “push an agenda.”

The study also examines why trust continues to decline despite many news outlets with high journalistic standards of transparency, objectivity and accuracy.
It explores the emotional factors that drive attitudes about the news, particularly beliefs that news organizations intend to mislead them and are indifferent to the social and political impact of their reporting despite the apparently opposite opinion that news organizations are capable of delivering accurate and fair reporting.

Gallup and Knight study “Media and Democracy”
AP report on study
Knight Foundation