Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Local news media trusted more than national media, but not as well as most other local institutions; partisanship invades

Knight Foundation chart; click on it to enlarge
Local news media enjoy more trust than their national counterparts, but a new study has warning signs for community journalists and their paymasters.

A Gallup Poll funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation shows that "The same forces that have eroded trust in the national media are now beginning to filter down to the local level," John Sands reports for Knight. "That trust is more fragile than previously understood -- and vulnerable to the same perceptions of partisan bias that threaten confidence in the national media."

Six in 10 Americans believe their local news outlets are "accomplishing most of the key tasks of informing communities," Sands writes. "And local journalists are seen as more caring (36 percent), trustworthy (29%) and neutral or unbiased (23%). But local news outlets don’t exist in a vacuum, as this study emphasizes."

Just as with national media, "a person’s political affiliation is a determining factor in how they feel about their local news outlet, with Democrats having more confidence in local than Republicans," Sands notes. "As local news outlets wade into coverage of controversial social and political issues, as is more common on the national level, those levels of trust could also wane."

Sands, who is Knight's director for learning and impact, identifies key points from the poll:
  • More Americans trust local news than national news: 45% trust reporting by local news organizations “a great deal” or “quite a lot,” compared to 31% for national news organizations.
  • Local news media are better than national media at covering issues Americans can use in their daily lives (79%) and in reporting without bias (66%).
  • However, local news ranks behind most other local institutions in public confidence, with only local government ranking lower: 37% express a great deal or quite a lot of trust for local news organizations, compared to 73% for local libraries and 56% for law enforcement. (See Knight chart at bottom for other examples.)
  • Most Americans think local news media offer balanced perspectives: 53% describe it as “about right,” while 26% say it is “too liberal” and 15% “too conservative.”
  • But when those numbers are broken down by party, 50% of Democrats in the poll expressed confidence in local media, while only 27 percent of Republicans did.
  • Americans think local news outlets need better accountability reporting; 60% feel local news only does a “fair” or “poor” job of that. 
  • They also say several topics need more attention: drug addiction (65%); K-12 education (64%), the environment (64%), and plans for public works projects (64 %).
The last two bullet points could be translated into a prescription of relief from the three immediately preceding. The Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, publisher of The Rural Blog, is tackling the drug issue with Covering Substance Abuse and Recovery: A Workshop for Journalists, in Ashland, Ky., on Nov. 15. A discounted registration fee of $50 is good through Friday, Nov. 1; for details and registration, click here.

No comments: