Assessing the news media: trust, coverage, and threats to a free press

The public is worried about a variety of problems threatening a free press in the United States and around the world, though trust in the news media remains low.

May 1, 2023

Although trust in the news media remains low, the public is nevertheless worried about a variety of problems threatening a free press in the United States and around the world. Ahead of World Press Freedom Day, findings from this spring 2023 survey from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights reveal concerns about attacks on journalists, restrictions on press freedoms, and the spread of misinformation.

Overall, 44% of adults polled believe the U.S. government is doing a good job protecting the freedom of the press in this country, and 42% say the same about freedom of speech. About three-quarters of adults view the political preferences of news organization owners as having a major influence on the news media in the United States. Most Americans are also at least somewhat concerned about direct threats to the press, including about one-third who are extremely or very concerned about attacks on journalists.

Nearly all adults (93%) view the spread of misinformation to be a problem. About two-thirds of adults attribute responsibility for the spread of misinformation to U.S. politicians, social media companies, and their users. But nearly as many (58%) are holding the news media responsible as well. And when it comes to fixing the problem, 63% of adults say the news media has a great deal or quite a bit of responsibility to address the spread of misinformation.

In their daily consumption of news, a third of adults report encountering stories containing false claims from politicians (32%) and misleading headlines (31%). Nineteen percent say they encounter conspiracy theories in news stories daily.

Many Americans are skeptical about the role the news media is playing in democracy these days. A majority of adults have some degree of confidence in the news media to report the news fully, accurately, and fairly; but just 16% are very confident and 45% have little to no confidence at all. Americans are more likely to see the news media as hurting democracy and increasing political division in the United States than protecting democracy and decreasing division. Many of those polled have the perception that news coverage is also impacted by outside influences, including corporations and government.

Most Americans think the news media is doing at least somewhat well when it comes to covering the issues they care about in their local community, in the United States, and around the world. However, only around a third feel that the news media do a good job on important topic areas such as military and national defense, crime, and election coverage.

The survey also finds that people value in-depth and investigative reporting but are less likely to engage with that content. A majority say news stories that report the facts of the issues or that include in-depth background information and analysis of the issues are extremely or very helpful when it comes to understanding issues important to them. But when they are trying to understand the issues they care about, people more often find themselves scanning the news headlines than engaging with in-depth or investigative reporting.

The AP-NORC Center conducted this study with funding from Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights. The survey includes 1,002 interviews with a nationally representative sample of adults living in America using the AmeriSpeak® Omnibus, a monthly multi-client survey of NORC at the University of Chicago. Interviews were conducted between March 30-April 3, 2023, via web and phone in English. The margin of sampling error is +/- 4.4 percentage points.

Suggested Citation: AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. (May, 2023). “Assessing the news media: trust, coverage, and threats to a free press.”

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