"The public is ready for a relationship with more understanding and trust, if news media can take the right steps to earn it." That's a bottom-line conclusion of a survey of journalists and the American public that asked parallel questions to get at citizens' understanding of journalistic concepts, their public’s interactions with journalists, and how that affects their assessment of the news media.
The poll found "substantial agreement on what Americans want from the news media and what journalists want to report, according to a pair of studies that also reveal a troubling caveat: a nagging feeling among both the ideal isn't being met," reports The Associated Press, which sponsored the polls with the American Press Institute. And while citizens and journalists largely agreed on what the news media should be doing, "with one major exception. Only a little more than half of the people said the press should act as a watchdog to powerful people and institutions, while 93 percent of journalists view this as their role."
"The public and journalists want the same things from the press — verified facts, supplemented by some background and analysis," API reports. "But they also reveal dissatisfaction: many Americans think what they see in the news media looks largely like opinion and commentary — not the carefully reported contextualizing they hoped for." The project found that 42 percent of Americans say "journalists stray too far into commentary," AP reports.
API reports, "The public is confused by some basic concepts of news. Half do not know what an 'op‑ed' is. More than four in 10 do not know what the term 'attribution' means, and close to three in 10 do not know the difference between an editorial and a news story."
Social media probably haven't helped. Many Americans get their news through social media, where it isn’t always clear where stories come from, API Executive Director Tom Rosenstiel said. "That may contribute to the finding that most American adults aged 18 to 29 think the news is fairly inaccurate, while most above 30 felt it was fairly accurate," AP reports.
The polls suggest that journalists and their craft could benefit from more direct engagement with the public. "Respondents with personal media experience — especially those who have taken a course on the topic or participated in media at their schools — have a better understanding of journalistic terms, more positive views of several types of media, and in many cases an easier time differentiating news and opinion," API reports. "However, they have similar levels of trust and views about the direction of the news industry."