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   October 14, 2003

UConn Study: Public's Opinion
And Use Of Media Declining

Newspapers' editorial pages are well read, but the American public is distrustful of what journalists and commentators have to say, according to a national poll by the Center for Survey Research and Analysis. The poll was presented by Ken Dautrich, associate professor of political science and director of the Center, to national editorial and opinion page writers during their annual conference held this year at UConn.

The phone survey, conducted with a sample of 1,005 adults between Sept. 12 and Oct. 1, found that among those who use local newspapers, 82 percent say they read the editorial section of the paper; 78 percent of national newspaper users read the editorial section.

Yet the majority of Americans don't trust much of what political commentators or other newspaper or TV journalists say.

When asked about TV news anchors, only 8 percent say they trust "all" of what they say and another 33 percent say they trust "most" of what they say. For TV reporters, 5 percent trust "all" of what they say and 25 percent trust "most" of what they say. For newspaper reporters, 5 percent trust "all" and 23 percent trust "most" of what they say.

Political commentators fare even worse with respect to public trust. For newspaper columnists who provide political commentary, 3 percent of Americans trust "all" and 16 percent trust "most" of what they write. Two percent trust "all" and 11 percent trust "most" of what radio talk show hosts have to say. For TV talk show hosts who provide political commentary, 1 percent trust "all" and 12 percent trust "most" of what they say.

The survey found Americans' evaluation of the performance of news media has declined in the past six years.

Forty-four percent of those polled gave the news media ratings of "excellent" or "good" for their overall performance in covering the news, representing a five-point drop since 1997. Fifty-five percent said the news media do only a fair or poor job.

The survey found that 57 percent offered a positive rating to the job their local TV news does, down three points from six years ago, and 54 percent rated TV network newscasts positively (no change since 1997). Forty-six percent of respondents rated local newspapers with a positive score, down three points; and 45 percent gave a positive rating to radio news, about the same as in 1997.

Better educated and older Americans tend to be more critical of overall news media performance. For example, 35 percent of those with a college education gave a positive rating, compared to 48 percent of those who did not go to college; and 35 percent of those over 50 years of age rate the news positively, compared to 40 percent of those between 35 and 49 and 44 percent of those under 35.

The study also finds that usage of a variety of news sources has declined since 1997. Use of local newspapers has dropped 14 percentage points; use of the radio to get news fell 9 points; local TV newscast use dropped 4 points; and national network newscast use declined 5 points.

"The drop in ratings of news media performance appears to have negative consequences for the public's use of a number of news sources," Dautrich said. "Americans are using the news media less today in part because they see a decline in media performance."

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