Distrust of the media has been a staple of president-elect Donald Trump’s campaign, but he was certainly not the first person to sow seeds of doubt between the public and media organizations. This trend is nothing new, but it has become much more apparent in the past 18 months.
So why do so many people distrust the media? According to Natalie Stroud, associate professor of communication studies, confidence in the media has been declining since the 1970s. She notes this gradual loss of faith in news organizations is likely due to a broad range of things, including distaste for the topics that the news media chooses to cover, too much interpretation rather than just the reporting of facts and an increase in criticism of the press by politicians.
Journalism exists to inform the public. Without trust, this institution is wasted. A lack of information — or worse, the presence of misinformation — is dangerous to our democracy.
Journalists choose their careers for a variety of reasons, but the long hours, low pay and antagonistic public make for poor job prospects. Journalists find their jobs to be an unarguable necessity because they understand the need for a free press in order for a democracy to continue. Many outside of this career, however, do not entirely understand how the press works, or why.
People choose career paths other than journalism for a reason. It is not the responsibility of the public to understand the press. However, perhaps news organizations should be doing a better job of making the necessity of their work — and their fundamental flaws — known.
“The news media need to listen to the public more,” Stroud said. “By engaging with audiences and thinking about how to best meet the information needs of communities in a democracy, I think that the press will better serve the public.”
According to Stroud, there are ways to combat the declining faith in the media, as long as we are “constantly aware of this divide and try new strategies for rebuilding trust.” As in any relationship, communication is key.
Ultimately there is no simple solution to regain the confidence of the public we serve. We all must work hard to rebuild trust and remember the basics. We must be transparent in our reporting and make sure to listen to our audience.
For those of you who have lost faith in the media, give us another chance. Tell us what you think we can do better, and have faith that we will listen. Journalists and the American people have a challenging four years ahead of them. It is up to everyone to rise to the task.
Bonfiglio is a journalism junior from Oak Creek, Colorado. Follow her on Twitter @NahilaBonfiglio.