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Public's View of Media Accuracy at 24 Year Low

Trust in the accuracy of U.S. media has fallen to a new low, according to a new study by the Washington-based Pew Research Center.

"This is an overall impression and people are not saying every story is inaccurate," says Carroll Doherty, Pew's Associate Director. "The value of this survey is the trend," he says.

That trend indicates a sharp change in the public's perception of media accuracy in the last 15 years. Just 29 percent of Americans say news organizations generally get the facts straight, while 63 percent complained the news is often inaccurate. In 1985, when the survey was first conducted, 55 percent said new stories were mostly accurate, while 34 percent said they were inaccurate.

Journalists Blame Financial Pressures

Although journalists were not asked for their opinions of the recent findings, Doherty says there is a general recognition that the rate of factual errors is on the rise. He says in response to previous surveys, journalists have tied problems with accuracy to a reduction in staffing, saying that's how media companies have responded to budget pressures. "Things appear to have gotten worse," Doherty says.

Public Perceptions of "New Media"

Perhaps part of the media's credibility problem lies in the technological transformation the industry has seen in the past decade. Once the province of the legacy media - newspapers, radio and television - journalism is now something anyone can practice. Today, any blogger on the internet can contribute to the dialogue on just about any topic.

While the Pew survey left it to each respondent to determine for himself what comprises "the news media," Doherty says previous surveys have indicated the public still finds the mainstream media more credible than those found on the internet.

Television Is Still "King"

Results from the study show television remains the most popular source for information. Among the 1,506 adults surveyed, 71 percent said they get most of their national and international news from television. Only 42 percent relied on the Internet, with 33 percent who said they got their news from newspapers.

Bias And Independence

The Pew study shows American's believe the media have become more biased in the last 15 years. In 1985, fewer than half of people surveyed (45 percent) said the media often advocate a particular point of view. Today, the study puts that figure at 60 percent.

When asked about media independence, 74 percent said they believed news organizations are influenced by powerful people, compared to 20 percent who view them as independent of outside control. In 1985, the gap was much more narrow: 47 percent to 35 %.

"We see more politization of news organizations now," says Doherty. Does this factor into people's opinions of news media in general? "No doubt it does," he says.

The Future

While the survey shows news consumers are more critical of the media, it also indicates the public would mourn the loss of national news sources.

Although fewer young people (18-29 year olds) cite television and newspapers as their main sources of news (replaced by the Internet and other forms of content distribution), they find more value in the legacy media than those 60 years and older.

The younger age group, even more than their elders, said it would be an important loss if they no longer had network TV news - 83 percent vs. 74 percent. They also would miss cable news more - 82 percent vs. 70 percent. Younger people would even mourn more for the loss of large national newspapers -78 percent to 60 percent.