Public perception of journalists keeps declining

August 6, 2013 01:30

By Mike Cavender, RTDNA Executive Director

I’m an optimist by nature. 

One of these days, I’ll have occasion to write in this space about how the public’s view of who we are and what we do is on the upswing.

But not yet, I’m afraid.

Recent research from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life is the latest to rank journalists close to the bottom when it comes to perceptions by the public as to how much we contribute to the well-being of Americans. Of ten institutions named, including the military, teachers, doctors, scientists and others—journalists ranked 8th as to their perceived contributions to society.  This is below all the above groups, but still higher than business executives and lawyers.  Not included in this study were politicians. (Had they been, I suspect we would have fared a tiny bit better.)

Among women, the drop in that perception (from 2009-2013) was precipitous. It was down 17 per cent during the period, from 46% in ’09 to 26% this year. And looking further at the demography, the decline was most apparent among women age 50+. That’s interesting, because that age group represents the largest consumer of traditional news on broadcast and in print.    There were also significant declines among men, although slightly less than women.

The Pew study follows a Nielsen report earlier this spring which showed that broadcast news ranked near the bottom when it came to garnering the public trust. After that survey was released, I suggested that one of the contributing reasons might be that too many television news organizations could be spending more time promoting the style, rather than the substance, of what they have to report.
I’m running out of reasons to suggest as to why our profession seems to be in a constant state of decline with its audiences.  No doubt, it’s a confluence of factors. To some extent, it could be representative of a growing perception that we’re no longer vital or necessary to everyday life. Whether it’s the stories we choose to emphasize or the manner in which we emphasize them, it could boil down to a perceived lack of relevance.

And if we’re not relevant, we can’t be contributing much to the public good.

What are your thoughts?  Please leave a comment below.