Rebound in trust for newspapers, TV news?

Over a 20-year trend in Gallup polling, public trust in newspapers and television news has mainly declined, reaching a nadir in 2007.  Changes in the next three polling cycles showed little change except margin-of-error statistical noise.  This year, however, trust in both media ticked up a bit — at least enough for Gallup to highlight the results:

Americans’ confidence in newspapers and television news rebounded slightly in the past year, having been stuck at record lows since 2007. The 28% of Americans who express a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in newspapers and the 27% who say the same about television news still lag significantly behind the levels of trust seen through much of the 1990s and into 2003.

The findings are from Gallup’s annual update on confidence in institutions, which found few other notable changes from last year. Newspapers and television news rank 10th and 11th in confidence, respectively, among the 16 institutions tested. While the improvement for each is small in absolute terms, it could mark the beginning of the reversal of the trend seen in recent years. The Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism’s annual report on The State of the News Media suggests that the state of the media improved in 2010 as content providers found new ways to meet the changing needs of their audiences as well as new revenue models.

The national media should refrain from breaking open the bubbly.  At 28% for newspapers and 27% for TV news, the scores still equal the pre-2007 low reached in 2005.  At 28/27, they fall further below the 2000 midrange peak of 37/36 than above the 2007 low of 23/22.  The bounce may be real, but it’s also really small and part of a very shallow upward trend.

Newspapers should be very worried about one key demographic.  In a one-year period, the trust among 18-29YOs for newspapers fell 10 points.  This age demographic has the highest level of trust even with that dramatic drop (39%), but the sudden shift away from newspapers bodes ill for the future of the industry.  The age group shifted that confidence to TV news, which picked up 10 points.  Newspapers can take some comfort in a rebound of 9 points among thirtysomethings, but that only brings that demographic to 25% with confidence in the medium.

Besides 18-29YOs, the groups with the highest levels of confidence in newspapers are Democrats (39%) and liberals (37%), which probably won’t surprise anyone who reads the papers.   For TV news, the highest levels of confidence came from the lowest educational level (40%) and Democrats (36%).  Conservatives remained skeptical of both media (21% for newspapers, 23% for TV news), as did independents (23/23), although the numbers for these ticked upward a bit in the latest survey.

The actual takeaway is that confidence in national media remains remarkably low, not that we’re experiencing a renaissance.  The most likely to have confidence in the national media is not surprisingly the echo chamber for whom newspapers and TV news publish — and even those groups largely don’t trust them.