Trust in Cable News at an All-Time Low

A series of polls released by media researchers has found that public trust in major news networks is at an all-time low. A recent nationwide Gallup poll found that only 32% of Americans reported having confidence in so-called “mainstream” media outlets, the lowest level ever recorded by Gallup. According to Gallup, part of the reason behind those changing views is that fact that millennials have entered adulthood with a completely different set of media options than previous generations were faced with:

Older Americans are more likely than younger Americans to say they trust the media, but trust has declined among both age groups this year. […] Yet in the past decade, older Americans have mostly had more confidence than younger Americans, and this year, the gap between these age groups is 12 points.

However, the study notes that trust in major news outlets is now eroding across all age groups. Similar polls have found that cable news is suffering the worst losses when it comes to public opinion, with trust in almost every major cable news network falling over the last year.

According to a Harvard-published study, that decline in trust could be due to what is seen as an overall atmosphere of negativity on cable news. The study was published by the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, which itself is part of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. Researchers found that nearly 80% of cable news political coverage since the 2016 presidential election has been overwhelmingly negative. According to the study’s authors, that negativity is due less to journalists’ political biases and more to an overall pessimistic bias that has pervaded cable news in general in recent years:

Although journalists are accused of having a liberal bias, their real bias is a preference for the negative. News reporting turned sour during the Vietnam and Watergate era and has stayed that way. Journalists’ incentives, everything from getting their stories on the air to acquiring a reputation as a hard-hitting reporter, encourage journalists to focus on what’s wrong with politicians rather than what’s right.

Sure, there a plenty of reasons for this decline in trust in the media which likely stem from the political turmoil over the last year. However, demographics and technology also likely play a large role. As more and more households cut the cable in favor of streaming, less households depend on cable networks for their daily news.And who knows: as more streaming services find new types of content to bring to consumers, streaming news might soon be the next big game-changer in the streaming world.

With instant peer-to-peer media like Twitter, Reddit, and Facebook, the middleman roles that “mainstream” media outlets once fulfilled might soon be redundant. Why trust the mouthpiece of a corporate conglomerate when you can get your news straight from the source? Sure, there are problems associated with both models, but if the cable news industry can’t find a way to regain public trust, it might soon join the newspaper in museums.

Brett Tingley

Brett Tingley

Brett lives at the foot of the ancient Appalachian mountains in Asheville, North Carolina and writes about technology, science, and culture.
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Brett Tingley