It was not a good week for the news.
Two critical studies emerged that reveal just how disenchanted the public has become with the media. As reported in The Huffington Post, the headlines of each article say it all: “U.S. Distrust in Media Hits Record High” and “Millennials And News Study: Youth View The News As ‘Garbage,’ Don’t Like Being Talked Down To By It.”
Although these studies were not published in conjunction with one another, the connections are overwhelmingly apparent. The former article is based on a recent Gallup Poll in which “60 percent of respondents said they do not trust the mass media ‘very much/at all.’” Although this distrust typically increases during presidential election years, this is the highest level of distrust recorded among the U.S. public since Gallup began regularly asking this survey question in the 1990s. The numbers reflect the gap between the priorities of the corporate-owned mainstream media and the daily lives and struggles of most Americans. It seems the common criticisms of the MSM as purveyors of horse race journalism, access journalism, and for serving as partisan stenographers have not gone unnoticed by the public.
The Gallup poll was not generation-specific, but its relevance to the latter article cannot be overstated. The “Millennials And News Study” article references shifting patterns of news consumption among the young; primarily that they increasingly access news online and via their smartphones. However, the larger finding is that millenials specifically feel like the MSM condescends toward them and blames them for their lack of economic success, despite the recession and the student loan crisis. This victim-blaming pattern is not uncommon, especially given that the MSM continually reinforces myths of rugged individualism and upward social mobility, while ignoring structural inequalities. Even with overwhelming evidence to the contrary, these hallmarks of U.S. culture don’t seem to be fading away anytime soon. It would then make sense that those struggling to make ends meet regardless of their age would not be pleased with the MSM’s victim-blaming paradigm.
According to the article, one of the specific trends in media that millennials particularly resent is when they are referred to as the “boomerang” or “Go-Nowhere Generation.” Essentially, the young are being viewed pejoratively for having to move back in with their parents after college, as though this is a reflection of their collective character or work ethic, not the economic climate. In fact, the MSM echo chamber falsely reported that a whopping 85 percent of millennials were moving back in with their parents, when PolitiFact discovered that it was more like 40 percent. Remember when the media used to actually check the facts? Whatever the numbers, the message is clear: the young are lazy and spoiled. It’s not surprising then that the young don’t gravitate toward the MSM for news and information.
Consequently, some journalists and scholars, such as journalism professor Paula Poindexter, are sounding the alarm that millennials not being engaged enough in the news could have dire consequences for civic engagement. However, if the MSM is failing in its mission to fairly and accurately inform the public, it’s questionable how much of an impact news consumption would make in terms of the young being able to represent their interests. Interestingly, the young also tend to get their news from the two most critically acclaimed satirical news programs: The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report. According to an oft-cited 2007 Pew Research Study, viewers of those programs were the most knowledgeable about national and international news. In other words, viewers of these comedy programs knew more about current events than viewers of Fox News, CNN, The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, etc.
This study seems to suggest that since young people get their news from comedians, they are probably more informed than those getting news from traditional MSM outlets. Furthermore, considering that millenials were at the forefront of participation in the Occupy movement—one of the most significant sociopolitical movements of the last 20 years–suggests that the young do not lack focus in terms of civic engagement.
Either way, both of these studies reveal that the public is justifiably wary of the MSM, regardless of generation. Whether or not this will produce any changes in news coverage remains to be seen.