Do Americans “trust” “the media”? The question is often asked and often answered. But, to be fair, it’s not a very precise question.
Trust is a slippery measuring stick. Do I “trust” technology? Well, I trust strangers on Uber to be on time, but don’t trust my cable company to arrive within a four-hour window; I trust my iPhone to not explode, but don’t trust my email to be unhackable. Asking whether I trust “technology,” yes or no, is asking for an non-summarizable opinion of a diverse group of products and people, which fall along a continuum of confidence.
“The media,” like “technology,” is not a single tangible object, but rather an information galaxy, a vast and complex star system composed of diverse and opposing organizations, which are themselves composed of a motley group of people, each of whom are neither all good nor all bad, but mostly flawed media merchants, with individual strengths, weaknesses, biases, and blindspots. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are almost 200,000 Americans working for broadcast television and cable programming, 197,000 employed in digital publishing and broadcasting, 183,000 working for newspapers, 99,000 working for magazines, 86,000 in radio, and 64,000 employed in the editing and production of books. Asking survey respondents to briefly summarize their feelings about the daily work of one million strangers is asking for an impossible, and potentially meaningless, oversimplification, like, “Do you think food is too raw?” or “Is clothing red?”
With these enormous caveats out of the way, the fact remains that Americans’ “trust” in “the media” is falling steadily, according to Gallup. Even if the precise definitions of these terms is debatable, the overall decline is clear and noteworthy.