A new Gallup Poll released this week shows Americans’ trust in mass media (print, TV, radio) has fallen to its lowest level in Gallup polling history. Gallup began asking this question in 1972 and, while trust in the media has declined for more than a decade, the election coverage is clearly having a major impact on the latest results. Key highlights of the survey include:

  • 32% say they have “a great deal” or “a fair amount” of trust in mass media, down 8 percentage points from last year
  • Just 14% of Republicans express trust in mass media, down from 32% last year, and the lowest in 20 years
  • Confidence in mass media has dropped among both younger and older Americans, with trust in the institution down 10 points since last year for those under 50 years old (down to 26%), and down 7 points for those aged 50 and older (down to 38%)

As Gallup notes, this erosion of trust “is a stunning development for an institution designed to inform the public.” Moreover, I see no signs of this trend letting up, since it’s increasingly fashionable – particularly among Republican public officials – to repeatedly attack the “mainstream media” for its coverage of a wide range of issues. The prevalence of opinion-driven reporting only adds fuel to this fire.

This disturbing trend has important consequences for public affairs, public relations and reputation management. Organizations seeking to influence legislation or shape public opinion on public policy issues must recognize that traditional media placements – even among top tier media – are not likely to have the same impact on voters, informed or otherwise, as they once did. And the trust gap among younger and older Americans raises similar considerations for micro-targeting.

Much like a diversified portfolio is a best practice for successful investing, the erosion of trust in the media also underscores the need for brands to have an integrated communications program that blends paid, earned, shared and owned media strategies. Shared and owned channels will continue to be increasingly important and will undoubtedly continue to evolve. Rest assured, however, that despite the rapid change in today’s media landscape, the desire for interesting storytelling will always endure.