According to a Gallup poll in 2015 only 40 percent of Americans trust the mass media to report news fully, accurately and fairly. American trust in the mass media has steadily declined since an approval rating of 55 percent in 1998. While several news publications have made blunders and mistakes that might discredit their objectiveness in reporting, one of the reasons for American distrust in the media can be attributed to the journalism industry ineffectively transitioning from print to digital media.
To elaborate on a previous post that questioned if journalism is a dying industry, one of the biggest challenges that news publications face is creating an effective pay model for articles posted online. Like many companies and marketing departments, newspapers are now able to gather information regarding reader engagement on their websites, including:
- Article clicks and social media engagement
- How far down into an article most readers get to before leaving the page
- When readers leave the website
- How long a reader stays on the website
- Demographic and psychographic of the readership
Because of these metrics, newspapers can now create articles that will resonate and engage the most with its target audience. Unfortunately metrics have partly led to a decline in the quality of articles (alongside cuts in the newsroom, journalists being spread thin to make up the workload and a 24/7 digital news cycle).
Beyond metrics, the way in which most Americans consume news also greatly contributes to the shift in quality seen in the past two decades. According to a study at Columbia University and the French National Institute, 59 percent of links shared on social media have never actually been clicked.
In a study for readership engagement on Slate.com, 38 percent of readers were reported to leave within the first few seconds of entering the website, which can be attributed to a reader not immediately finding the content that they were looking for. This is a common trend for most websites and newspapers; because of this trend, pseudo-news and click bait content have become popular on the internet.
While pseudo-news articles and click bait content are quite poor in quality, they tend to perform well in terms of metrics. Because of how many pseudo-news sites have appeared on the internet, it’s also hard for readers to differentiate between what’s actual news and what’s biased and fictitious/unsubstantiated.
Readers also seek out and remember information that supports their pre-existing attitudes and beliefs in what is known as the reinforcement theory. While it isn’t possible to avoid information that differs from one’s own, many Americans engage in selective perception to skew information to coincide with what they want. They also engage in selective retention and only recall information that positively reinforces pre-existing attitudes and beliefs.
Based on this reinforcement theory, even very reputable newspapers may skew conservative or liberal to draw readership and increase metric engagement. Objectivity should be a significant part of any journalist’s ethical code, but this ethic seems to have been placed to the side due to newspaper skews, slants and angles to the articles they publish.
Because of cuts to the newsroom, ineffectively transitioning into the digital age and relying too heavily on metrics, the public’s trust in the mass media has steadily declined in the past two decades. The public is equally to blame, however, for consuming news, pseudo-news and click bait content that only reaffirms pre-existing attitudes and beliefs in a figurative media echo chamber, or not even reading articles and sharing them based on the headline alone.
Do you think that newspapers will be able to win back American trust within the next decade? Will readers continue to only view content that conforms to their pre-existing attitudes and beliefs? Let me know in the comments below!