The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press has released what can only be viewed by journalists as a depressing survey of the U.S. public’s assessment of the accuracy of news stories. The Pew Center, an independent, non-partisan public opinion research organization, says that assessment is now at its lowest level in the more than two decades of surveys.
The Pew study finds that only 29 percent of Americans now believe that U.S. news media get the facts straight. In 1985, when the first such survey was conducted, 55 percent said they felt news stories were generally accurate.
The study goes on to report that a majority of those surveyed believe news organizations are politically biased. Other evaluations in the study are also at all-time lows.
Bill Keller, executive editor of the New York Times, believes the results of the survey have been skewered by the surge in Internet and other outlets that substitute opinion for fact:
“The great flood that goes under the heading `news media' has been poisoned by junk blogs, gossip sheets, shout radio and cable-TV partisans that don't deserve to be trusted.”
Here’s another similar observation:
"I am concerned that if the direction of the news is all blogosphere, all opinions, with no serious fact-checking, no serious attempts to put stories in context, that what you will end up getting is people shouting at each other across the void but not a lot of mutual understanding."
You might be surprised to learn that comment was not made by a top editor like Bill Keller, but by President Barack Obama in a discussion this month with reporters from two American newspapers, the Toledo Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
We at VOA share the concern over the proliferation of opinion and argument in place of hard news reporting. Just consider the role of state-controlled or state-run media in many parts of the world: in our view, they do nothing to promote understanding either, existing only to promote support for a ruling government or party and to actually prevent alternative views -- or even the facts -- from being heard.
This is why we at Voice of America remain committed to straight reporting and fact-based analysis of news events as well as sharing responsible points of view on critical issues. It is why we have often made the case in speaking appearances that VOA is one of the last bastions of what we might call “pure journalism,” unadulterated by opinion or driven by political motives.
There is evidence that our audiences -- unlike those Americans surveyed in the Pew study -- believe VOA does get the facts straight. Two recent independent research surveys give VOA services high marks for trustworthiness. One survey conducted in Indonesia puts the trustworthiness rating at 94 percent. The other, carried out in Albania, puts the level of trust in VOA’s main news show, Ditari, at an extraordinary 99 percent.
High marks like those give us confidence that we are doing the right thing.