Expect to see a lot of chatter today and tomorrow over the just-released Pew study of news audience attitudes. Howie Kurtz has a rundown in today’s Washington Post, including some crowing from various network/newspaper PR flacks about the results. One of those, from CNN’s Matthew Furman, struck me in particular:
“We’re obviously pleased — once again we’ve been voted the most trusted news organization in America.”
Man, you talk about burying the lede. That’s like being ranked “the most successful professional football team in Atlanta.” According to the Pew survey, less than one-third of those “able to rate” CNN said that they believe “all or most of what they see” on the network.
Memo to Matthew Furman: When 68% of your potential audience doesn’t trust you, you don’t have any reason to brag.
Now, to give Furman his due, while CNN’s trust numbers are horrible, they’re still miles beyond a couple of old-line news stalwarts. CBS News shuffles in at only 24% credibility, and the New York Times stumbles across the finish line at only 21%–and that’s among all the people surveyed. When the numbers were broken down along partisan lines, things got much, much worse.
Only 15% of Republicans believe what they see on CBS News. The numbers are scarcely better for NBC (16%) and ABC (17%). The Times clocks in at an unsurprising by still pathetic 14%. CNN easily tops all of the above, but still slides to 26%. According to the Pew analysis, “CNN’s once dominant credibility ratings have slumped in recent years, mostly among Republicans and independents.”
Look folks, this is a Big Deal, and I’m not even talking about media bias per se.
For all intents and purposes, more than half of the populace (everybody except partisan Democrats, and even their numbers for credibility are nothing for most of the press to brag about) has written off the vast majority of the national press. And they’re doing so because they believe that the press has written them off.
Things have gotten to the point where the President of the United States sees no reason not to ignore the networks and the New York Times. If the coin of your realm is trust, and influence is what you buy with that coin, what do today’s viewership realities say about the state of the realm?
We’ve heard a lot of whining over the last couple of decades about how “business” considerations have allegedly hurt “journalism,” particularly the network news departments. Today’s survey numbers suggest to me that those news departments aren’t paying enough attention to business considerations. When you’re hemmoraging customers as fast as the networks and newspapers, it just might behoove you to ask, “Why?”, and make some changes, instead of blaming your customers for being overly partisan, or dense. After all, it’s their market, not yours.
Unfortunately, I doubt very much that anybody at CBS or CNN or the Times is asking themselves that question this morning. They’re just noting that bias is in the eye of the beholder, and agreeing with each other that all those rubes out there who didn’t go to any of the good schools can’t be taken seriously.
Even as all those rubes tune them out–permanently.