Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Where's the Trust?

Can't say I'm surprised . . . Reuters reports on the results of a newly released Globescan survey showing that two-thirds of the American and British publicks distrust the news media to deliver balanced perspectives on the news. The article notes that these findings are outliers among the 10 countries polled, most of which were found to trust their national medias by much higher margins. One curious fact left off the wire report is that both Britain and America trust their governments more than their news outlets, which strikes me as rather odd given that federal contempt is as American as immigrant-bashing. The people are clearly not pleased with their mainstream news coverage . . . but what, if anything, can be done?

About a month ago, Michael Kinsley wrote a column advocating "opinion journalism" as a cure to the American media's increasingly unpopular (not to mention futile) objectivity fetish. He lifts up England's news ecosystem as a paragon of prickly, unabashedly biased political communication, but the British results reveal a public as dissatisfied with their media as we are with ours. Then again, a Likert poll item like "The media reports all sides of a story" means two very different things in the US and the UK—we're judging a media system whose members all pledge allegiance to official neutrality, while Brits swim in a far more varied sea of political perspectives, which one might think would offer greater balance overall. The fact that it apparently doesn't may be bad news for American news producers, because it suggests that not even a shift to opinion journalism would solve our media's credibility issues. But it's entirely possible that England simply lacks perspective—I'd wager a steady diet of American news would give your average Brit a newfound appreciation of subjectivity's subtle charms.