Americans troubled by political news bias

DOVER — A recent national survey said 84% of Americans believe that the news media is critical or very important to democracy.

That is the reassuring part of “American Views 2020: Trust, Media and Democracy” — a survey taken by the Gallup/Knight Foundation.

But, huge worries: 73% perceive too much bias in stories that should be reported objectively, and 69% see political bias in news sources.

What happened to neutrality?

“Americans have not only lost confidence in the ideal of an objective media, they believe news organizations actively support the partisan divide,” the report’s introduction said.

Keep in mind that the survey was taken from November 2019 through mid-February — before the pandemic and protests drove the wedge even deeper.

“At a time when factual, trustworthy information is especially critical to public health and the future of our democracy, the striking trends documented in these pages are cause for concern,” the report said.

The survey gives us good reason to pause and reflect on public perception of our industry and our news organization’s place in it.

We know readers of the Delaware State News are sensitive to bias.

That is especially true when it comes to national political stories from the Associated Press.

We do try to guard against publishing wire stories that do not meet the same standards for balanced and unbiased coverage that we expect of Delaware State News-produced content. We hear you loud and clear if you think we missed the mark.

It goes right to the heart of who we are.

The Delaware State News prides itself on reporting the news, not our views.

“Purposeful neutrality” is the goal.

That, however, is not to be confused with reporting on topics that you may dislike — protests and coronavirus concerns, for example.

We believe our readers seek a greater understanding and are quite capable of thoughtfully arriving at their own decisions.

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“American Views 2020” points to some big differences between Republicans and Democrats. Consider:

•71% of Republicans have an unfavorable opinion of the news media, compared to 22% of Democrats.

•80% of Americans say the media is under attack politically — 61% of Republicans say it is justified and 70% of Democrats say it is not.

•34% of Republicans and 63% of Democrats rate the news media as critical to democracy.

Meanwhile, Americans fret more about where others are getting their information than themselves:

•69% said they are concerned about bias in the news others are consuming.

•29% are concerned about their own news consumption.

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Local news, according to the survey, has grown in importance over the course of two years: 31% of Americans say they follow news about issues affecting their local community “very closely,” an increase from 25% two years earlier.

Special to our effort, we appreciate the finding that 36% of print readers — well more than other types of news media — feel “very attached” to their local community.

Not only that, 59% of print readers say they are very or somewhat confident in the best ways to get involved to make a difference and 56% of print readers — again, tops in both categories — say they are very or somewhat confident they knew how to communicate concerns to local officials.

Another warm statistic related to newspaper subscribers: Of all media, print news consumers rated the highest — 26% — when it came to feeling “highly knowledgeable” about issues facing their local community.

Least likely to feel this confident, at 18%, are people who say they get their news online.

Local news consumers, overall, are more engaged.

When it comes to voting, 81% of Americans who follow local news very closely will vote in local elections, compared to 63% for people who follow somewhat closely and 35% who do not follow local news at all.

“Americans who follow local news closely are more likely to vote in local elections and to feel attached to their communities,” the report said. “They are less likely to say that ‘people like me don’t have any say in what the government does.’”

Thank you, Delaware State News readers, for your desire to stay informed and engaged.

Read the full Knight Foundation/Gallup report.