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Column: Surprise, surprise — study shows we all just want the facts
Shannon Casas high res
Shannon Casas

A media insights study has discovered that Americans want facts.

Yes, it sounds on the surface like one of those no-duh studies that wasted money to discover what we all know already. 

There’s actually quite a bit more to the 78-page study, “A New Way of Looking at Trust in Media: Do Americans Share Journalism’s Core Values?,” which was released this week by the Media Insight Project, a collaboration between the American Press Institute and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

But for the purposes of this column, we’re going to stick to the facts.

The researchers identified journalism’s five core values as factualism, giving a voice to the less powerful, oversight, transparency and social criticism.

They found that 67% of Americans fully embraced the idea that the more facts we have in society the more likely we are to solve problems. 

It’s a bit ironic that the Associated Press was involved in this study, given that I’d bet a significant number of Times readers don’t particularly trust the AP to provide those facts. 

Trust in media, including the AP, has declined precipitously.

In fact, it’s declined so much that I recently found myself in a conversation on this topic in a Facebook group for fans of a particular rock band. Usually folks are just chatting about the latest livestream concert or some time they met the lead singer. But this past week, here fans were discussing the biases of media — admittedly sparked by some lyrics from a song the band put out years ago.

Point is, it’s no secret that trust in media has declined.

This recent study notes that trust declined between 1980 and 2000 with the “advent of cable and the deregulation of electronic media,” which made way for more partisan media. Trust in media fell from 68% to 51% between 1972 and 2000, as measured by Gallup.

In the past 20 years, it dropped to 40%, driven especially by a drop in confidence among Republicans as trust among Democrats actually rose.

The report goes on to state that “journalists are often frustrated by these patterns.” 

I hope in discussing these issues, that you all separate the national media from this locally owned newspaper. 

We’ve done our own less scientific surveys and know that many of you feel we provide you with the facts and “balanced and fair reporting,” as one survey respondent put it.

But I know the frustrations are real, both for the journalists and the media-consuming public. And I can tell you that I on more than one occasion have been rather frustrated with the Associated Press.

I also know from years of working with local journalists, that the study is right when it says those in traditional newsrooms “do not see themselves as partisan and ascribe passionately to values of fairness and independence.” And if any local journalists in The Times newsroom did feel some partisan mission, editors were here to push back on that notion.

Our goal is always to bring you the facts, especially on local issues. Sometimes we wish we had more facts to share with you, but we’re always on a fact-finding mission.

The upshot of this piece of the study is it seems that journalists and the public both agree facts are important. Now, if only the media and the media-consuming public could agree on what those facts are.

We’ll have to look at the rest of the study to dig into that issue. Come back next week for more.

Shannon Casas is editor in chief of The Times and a North Hall resident. 

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