Here’s what Pew says people think of journalism — and what you can do about it

Joy Mayer
Trusting News
Published in
6 min readSep 1, 2020

The negative perceptions of journalism reflected in a new Pew Research Center report out this week can be frustrating to read about. Many journalists consider their work to be a public service and resent when it’s seen as irresponsible or unethical.

But remember that the attitudes reflected in the research are appropriate for some news media. Just as you are likely frustrated by some things done in the name of journalism, so is the public. Not everyone corrects errors, shows care for their sources, clearly labels opinion content and explains where their funding comes from. Right?

At Trusting News, our goal is for you to use the research as ammunition for improving transparency and clarity around your own mission, ethics and processes. Don’t try to persuade everyone to trust all journalism. Instead, validate people’s skepticism and wariness, then show them why they can trust your work.

In this post, I’ll highlight some facts from the Pew report and suggest what we hope journalists will do in response. Find the whole Pew report here. And find other research about trust in journalism (from a variety of organizations) in this slide deck.

Perceptions of journalists’ value and attitudes

Fewer than half of U.S. adults have confidence that journalists act in the best interests of the public.

The challenge: More people believe that journalists hurt democracy than protect it. More people believe we don’t care about the people we report on than the opposite.

The questions for journalists: What’s your counter-narrative? Do you believe your work protects democracy? If so, how do you make that clear? Is it in your mission statement, and does your day-to-day work back it up? Do you tell your audience why your work matters for the health of your community, for example by including that language on-air, in newsletters and in social posts? How do you show that you have empathy for and are working on behalf of the people you report on?

If people think you do “gotcha” journalism, sensationalize people’s private lives or are careless with people’s stories and the effect your work has on their lives, what…

Joy Mayer
Trusting News

Director of Trusting News. It’s up to journalists to demonstrate credibility and *earn* trust. Subscribe here: