Just six media conglomerates own a majority of the major newspapers published in the U.S.
American confidence in newspaper and television media is near an all-time low, according to the latest national Gallup poll released earlier this month. The poll, which measured citizens’ trust in 16 societal institutions, found that just 23 percent of Americans trust newspapers and television news “a great deal” or “quite a lot.”
The media is only slightly more popular than big business, organized labor, HMOs and Congress — all among the least trusted institutions in the U.S.
When it comes to trusting news, “politics informed confidence,” observed The Poynter Institute. Thirty-one percent of liberals, 25 percent of moderates, and 15 percent of conservatives expressed confidence in newspapers in the Gallup poll.
The ideological differences remain consistent when it comes to television. Thirty-four percent of Democrats express confidence in television news, compared with just 17 percent of independents and 18 percent of Republicans.
The most trusted institutions in the U.S. are the military, with a confidence rating of 76 percent, and small business, at 65 percent, according to Gallup.
The corporatization of media
For advocates of free, independent media, part of the distrust stems from the concentration of news organizations into major media conglomerates. It’s in keeping with American disdain for big business, trusted by just 23 percent of respondents, according to the Gallup poll.
Recently, billionaire conservatives David and Charles Koch have reportedly expressed interest in purchasing eight Tribune Company newspapers at a cost of $600 million. The brothers control Koch Industries, a multibillion-dollar corporation heavily involved in the manufacturing of equipment used in the distribution and refinement of petroleum products.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Koch Industries contributed $5.7 million during the 2012 election cycle to conservative political action committees and political parties. Of this sum, $2.1 million was given directly to candidates, 97 percent of whom were Republicans. The company has already spent $2.6 million to lobby on oil and gas issues in 2013.
LA Weekly first reported in March that the Koch brothers were interested in purchasing the Tribune newspapers. Originally, the Los Angeles Times was the only paper up for sale, but the owner of the Tribune Company later announced that he wants to sell the entire media conglomerate, a cause for concern among advocates of a free press. No sale has taken place, and the Koch brothers have neither confirmed nor denied the rumor publicly, but it has caused quite a stir among advocates of a free, independent media.
“The Koch brothers have a high profile politically. Our concern is that they have indicated in published reports that they are interested in acquiring these papers in part to further their political agenda. We believe in a free media that doesn’t become a propaganda arm,” said Dale Eisman, a writer and researcher for the nonprofit advocacy organization Common Cause, to Mint Press News.
Americans turn to alternatives
Americans’ distrust of newspapers and television doesn’t mean that that they have given up on consuming news altogether. In fact, an increasing number are turning to the Internet to find alternative news sources.
“While traditional news platforms have lost audience, online news consumption has been undergoing major changes as well,” write Pew researchers in a 2012 report. “Nearly one-in-five Americans (17 percent) say they got news yesterday on a mobile device yesterday, with the vast majority of these people (78 percent) getting news on their cell phone. Among smartphone owners, nearly a third (31 percent) got news yesterday on a mobile device.”
Social media sites, including Facebook and Twitter, have become popular platforms for news consumers to pick and choose stories from a variety of corporate and independent sources.
“Today, 19 percent of the public says they saw news or news headlines on social networking sites yesterday, up from 9 percent two years ago. And the percentage regularly getting news or news headlines on these sites has nearly tripled, from 7 percent to 20 percent,” the Pew report said.
Independent news sources remain a popular choice for Americans, as well. The group 170 Million Americans for Public Broadcasting, a collaboration of public radio and television stations, reports that half of all news consumers turn to independent media for news each month.
As the title of the organization suggests, 170 million Americans utilize 368 public television stations, 934 public radio stations and hundreds of online services to consume news.
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