There’s a stat that should stop everyone in the news and PR businesses in their tracks this week.
A poll of Republican voters in the “purple” state of Michigan, published in the Detroit News, shows among those who align with the GOP, 66 percent of them – 2 out of every 3 – believe that “the news media” is “an enemy of the United States.” 68 percent of them feel the same way about Vladimir Putin.
You can chalk that up to Trump if you want, a make whose obsession with news coverage of every variety catapulted him to the White House, where he convinced his followers that the same media that put him on an unprecedented celebrity pedestal were “the enemy of the people.” You can credit that to talk show hosts who have railed for decades against the “mainstream media” while bragging about their large audience numbers that make them, in many ways, mainstream by any definition. You can attribute that to Fox News, which spends almost as much time showing mocking clips of its competitors and isolated quotes from national news outlets with a message of “don’t trust them, just watch us.”
But you should also take this seriously if you work in news and if you work with news because this poll is far from isolated. Just look at the record numbers from a new national Gallup survey. For example, the majority of those surveyed, 53% of Americans have “very little or no” confidence in television news. Just 12% of independent voters have confidence in newspapers.
Of course, those numbers are flawed. Too many think cable “news” (opinion programming) stands for all information content on TV. Many Americans don’t see or aren’t in the habit of watching local news, which remains, largely, local and non-partisan. Many Americans don’t have confidence in newspapers because they don’t see them in printed form. Many judge news coverage simply what they see on the social media feeds of people they barely know. But the takeaway is clear, confidence in media, like just about every institution has greatly eroded. This is a looming crisis, not only for a formerly informed society, but for the livelihoods of many reading this piece.
You just can’t scoff at these numbers. Media business leaders need to somehow figure out how to reconnect with audiences, if it’s possible, while still meeting profit mandates. Nonprofit news outlets need our support. And if you work in PR, this is your problem too. Of course, our businesses and role are more diverse than publicity and media relations. But we know that even in this environment, news coverage can shape reputation. News, and the audience’s trust in it, is vital to what we do.
The question for each of us, once we know these facts, is am I a part of the problem? And how can I be a part of the solution?