Does News Accuracy Matter?

There was a time when being right was more important than being first to report a story, right? This has been a hot topic during recent months, as news organizations have worked harder to compete in the real-time communication era. I think it’s more likely that news organizations have always wanted to be first and right, but given the choice, first wins out.

The first organization (or person for that matter) to break the news gets all the glory. Few care about accuracy if the report turns out to be a rumor. If the story is true, it’s the first to report that gets all the credit. This begs the question, does accuracy in reporting still matter? I think it does, but journalists have less time to check your facts and verify sources than before. Fact-checking often comes as the story develops, after it’s been reported. This changes the way consumers adapt to the flow of information.

No journalist wants to pass along rumors or inaccurate information to the public. I think most believe they are reporting the facts when they break a story, they’re just working with all the information they have on-hand at that minute. As new information becomes available, they update their stories in real-time.

Take for example the recent passing of Michael Jackson. All the news organizations were running with the report, though some took longer than others to confirm the facts than others. Meanwhile, consumers turned to the Web to do their own fact-checking on Internet sites and Twitter. Do news events like this signal the end of reliable reporting? If a plane goes down in the Hudson, do you wait for the evening news or do you hit Twitter to see if it’s a trending topic? It’s the latter.

Problems with Accuracy

According to a recent study by Pew Research survey, public perception of the accuracy of news stories is at its lowest level in more than two decades. Only 29% of Americans say that news organizations generally get the facts straight, while 63% say that news stories are often inaccurate. Compare this to 1985, when 55% of consumers said news stories were accurate, with only 34% saying they were inaccurate. That’s a significant shift in how we feel about the quality of news reporting today.

Even more disturbing is how the public feels about media bias. 60% of Americans say they feel news organizations are politically biased, with only 20% saying news organizations are independent of powerful people and organizations. Who can you trust?

Where Do We Get Our News?

Television remains the dominant news source for the public, with 71% saying they get most of their national and international news from TV. More than 40% get most of their news on the Internet, while 33% cite newspapers. For the first time in a Pew Research Center survey, more people said they got most of their national and international news from the Internet than from newspapers. This is promising and disturbing at the same time. It’s promising, as there are a lot of great online news sources for us to get our information from – and we trust them now more than ever. It’s disturbing because most Americans are getting their news from TV, which most of us seem to think is not accurate or objective anymore.

In the most recent survey by Pew Research, 63% of Americans say news stories are often inaccurate, 70% believe news organizations “try to cover up their mistakes”, and only 59% of Americans see news organizations as “highly professional.”

If there has even been a time for new journalism business models to step up to the plate and provide more objective, trustworthy and unbiased reporting, it’s now. Is accuracy still important to Americans? While this wasn’t a question in the survey, I’d guess it is. I think that’s part of the reason we all turn to the Internet more to get our news. We know we can find all sides of the issues online, and make our own informed decisions about what’s really going on in the world. I worry about those that still tune in hoping to get objective journalism on the evening news.

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