By: Joe Strupp
A survey to be released Monday reveals a wide gap on many media issues between a group of journalists and the general public. In one finding, 43% of the public says the press has too much freedom, while only 3% of journalists agree. And just 14% of the public can name “freedom of the press” as a guarantee in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, in the major poll conducted by the University of Connecticut Department of Public Policy.
Six in ten among the public feel the media show bias in reporting the news, and 22% say the government should be allowed to censor the press. More than 7 in 10 journalists believe the media does a good or excellent job on accuracy — but only 4 in 10 among the public feel that way. And a solid 53% of the public thinks stories with unnamed sources should not be published at all.
Perhaps the widest gap of all: 8 in 10 journalists said they read blogs, while less than 1 in 10 others do so. Still, a majority of the news pros do not believe bloggers deserve to be called journalists.
Asked who they voted for in the past election, the journalists reported picking Kerry over Bush by 68% to 25%. In this sample of 300 journalists, from both newspapers and TV, Democrats outnumbered Republicans by 3 to 1 — but about half claim to be Independent. As in previous polls, a majority (53%) called their political orientation “moderate,” versus 28% liberal and 10% conservative.
Earlier this year, a survey from the same department gained wide attention after it showed that American high schoolers had a rather flimsy grasp of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Half of the young people said they thought newspapers should not be able to publish stories without government approval. Stories about that survey appeared in hundreds of newspapers and it was even mentioned on the March 13 episode of the ABC drama “Boston Legal.”
The new poll was carried out in March and April. For the public opinion part, 1,000 adults were interviewed.
However, the journalist part of this new poll, as with so many previous ones, seems to weigh its sample much too heavily toward managers, and so may not represent a true cross-section in the profession.
Of 300 surveyed — with 120 from TV and 180 from newspapers of different sizes — a lopsided 43% of them were news directors or editors, 4% TV producers, 5% news analysts and columnists, and just 47% reporters. One in three have spent 25 or more years in the field. They were overwhelmingly white (83%), largely male (70%), and relatively well-paid (with a significant number making more than $100,000).
And there was this gap: In this sample, roughly 90% of the journalists had a college degree — versus only 23% of the general public.
Ken Dautrich, chair of the Department of Public Policy, said one of the most surprising findings was that a majority of the public (59%) joined the journos in supporting their right to keep sources confidential even when tested by the courts -? odd, in light of fact that a majority of the public says stories with unnamed sources shouldn’t be published in the first place. In a related area, 55% of non-journalists support the current effort to enact a federal shield law, as did 87% of news people.
But that doesn’t mean most readers like stories based on unnamed sources. The survey showed that 74% of journalists and 89% of non-journalists said one should question the accuracy of news stories that rely on anonymous sources.
Newspaper relevance in the average American’s news diet appears to have slipped, with 61% of non-journalists using television as their main new source, and only 20% citing newspapers.
Blogs showed their growing influence among those polled, as 83% of journalists reported the use of blogs, with four out of 10 saying they use them at least once a week. Among those who use them, 55% said they do so to support their news-gathering work. And even though 85% believe bloggers should enjoy First Amendment protections, 75% say bloggers are not real journalists because they don’t adhere to “commonly held ethical standards.”
Overall, 61% of the news pros say that the emergence of the Internet has made journalism better.