In other words: Americans want more than a watchdog.
The study, published Wednesday by the Media Insight Project, a collaboration between the American Press Institute and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, proposes measures that news organizations can reach people they may be turning off now.
“In some ways, this study suggests that our job is broader and bigger than we've defined it,” stated Tom Rosenstiel, executive director of the American Press Institute.
The study outlines five core principles or beliefs that inspire most journalists: keep watch on public leaders and the powerful; elaborate voices that often go silent; society works better with knowledge out in the open; the more facts people have the closer they will get to the truth; and it's vital to spotlight a community's difficulties to solve them.
Yet the survey, which questioned non-journalists a list of questions intended to measure support for each of those views, discovered unqualified majority support for only one of them. Two-thirds of those surveyed fully supported the fact-finding mission.
Half of the public embraced the principle that the media need to give a voice to the less powerful, according to the study, and somewhat less than half fully backed the roles of oversight and increasing transparency.
Less than a third of the respondents agreed completely with the belief that it's important to aggressively point out difficulties. Just 11% of the public, most of them liberals, offered full backing to all five ideas.
“I do believe they should be a watchdog on the government, but I don't think they should lean either way,” stated Annabell Hawkins, 41, a stay-at-home mother from Lawton, Oklahoma. “When I grew up watching the news it seemed pretty neutral. You'd get either side. But now it doesn't seem like that.”
Hawkins stated she thought the news media spent far too much time scrutinizing former President Donald Trump and rarely gave him credit for anything good he caused while in office.
“I just want the facts about what happened so I can make up my own mind,” stated Patrick Gideons, a 64-year-old former petroleum industry supervisor who lives south of Houston. He lacks faith in the news media because he thinks it offers too much feeling.
Polls show how the public’s attitude toward the press has soured over the past 50 years and, in this century, how it has grown much more partisan. In 2000, a Gallup poll discovered 53% of Democrats said they trusted the media, compared with 47% of Republicans. In the last full year of the Trump presidency, Gallup found trust went up to 73% among Democrats and plunged to 10% among Republicans.