399: News Trust

A Thousand Things to Talk About
399: News Trust

Do you trust what you read in the newspaper?

Show notes and links:

Full episode script

The last 20 years have been a bit rough on newspapers. The Gallup organization has been doing annual surveys on the state of trust for a wide number of media outlets, and newspapers haven’t been doing so hot — though things are getting very slightly better. Quoting from their 2017 report:

From a long-range perspective, confidence in newspapers hasn’t been high at any point over the past 30 years; the highest was 39% in 1990. The 27% who express confidence this year is the highest recorded since 2011.

The general lack of confidence in the news media as an institution aligns with findings last fall that showed trust in the mass media at an all-time low. The low readings for these media institutions may be happening because of the sheer volume of media now. When there were only a few major national newspapers, a select number of local newspapers and even fewer television news channels, Americans may have found it easier to trust these institutions.

Yet – there’s one very interesting outlier in this kind of research about trust in newspapers — and that’s small-town newspapers. Looking at publications that are only published only once or twice a week and focus on hyper-local news, there’s a shift.

One of the big differences between larger metro newspapers and community journalism is the staff has to face its audience every day.

“People have no problem coming up to me and telling me what they think of the newspaper,” says Jim Johnson, who owns newspapers in Kalona and Anamosa, two small newspapers in eastern Iowa. He says feedback is immediate.

But these are “very resilient papers,” says Art Cullen at the Storm Lake Times.

“They refuse to die,” he says. “But they have one foot in the grave and one foot on a banana peel because that’s the status of the communities they’re operating in.”

This script may vary from the actual episode transcript.