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Since 1985, the Pew Research Center has tracked the public opinion about the national news media. Its most recent data is quite alarming: Opinions now equal or surpass all-time highs on nine of 12 core measures. A bright spot: As bad as it is for news organizations, they are still more trusted than other many…

Opinions about the Press

Since 1985, the Pew Research Center has tracked the public opinion about the national news media. Its most recent data is quite alarming: Opinions now equal or surpass all-time highs on nine of 12 core measures. A bright spot: As bad as it is for news organizations, they are still more trusted than other many other organizations including the government and business. So I gotta ask: Are news organizations that bad, or do we just hate what the news is reporting? You can find a summary of the recent report here. the New York Times recently reported on the Pew report as well.

Some interesting paragraphs from the report summary:

* “The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press has been tracking views of press performance since 1985, and the overall ratings remain quite negative. Fully 66% say news stories often are inaccurate, 77% think that news organizations tend to favor one side, and 80% say news organizations are often influenced by powerful people and organizations.

The widely-shared belief that news stories are inaccurate cuts to the press’s core mission: Just 25% say that in general news organizations get the facts straight while 66% say stories are often inaccurate. As recently as four years ago, 39% said news organizations mostly get the facts straight and 53% said stories are often inaccurate.”

* “Despite the growth of Internet news, it is clear that television news outlets, specifically cable news outlets, are central to people’s impressions of the news media. When asked what first comes to mind when they think of news organizations, 63% volunteer the name of a cable news outlet, with CNN and Fox News by far the most prevalent in people’s minds. Only about a third (36%) name one of the broadcast networks. Fewer than one-in-five mention local news outlets and only 5% mention a national newspaper such as the New York Times, Wall Street Journal or USA Today. Just 3% name a website – either web-only or linked to a traditional news organization – when asked what comes to mind when they think of news organizations.”

* “For the first time in a Pew Research Center survey, as many say that news organizations hurt democracy (42%) as protect democracy (42%). In the mid-1980s, about twice as many said that news organizations protect democracy rather than hurt democracy.

“Yet majorities have consistently expressed the view that criticism of political leaders by news organizations keeps them from doing things that should not be done. Today, 58% say this, while just 25% say that the news media’s criticism keeps political leaders from doing their jobs. Even as attitudes toward the press have grown more negative, support for the press’s watchdog role has remained stable.”

Download the full report, Views of the News Media: 1985-2011: Press Widely Criticized, But Trusted More than Other Information Sources.

Posted by Joel on October 08 2011 • Journalism

Reading about Reading

The opening paragraph from Elizabeth Minkel’s article in The New Yorker certainly caught my attention. Could it be true that the decline of reading may be on the reverse? Dana Gioia, the chairman of the National Endowment of the Arts, reports that more Americans are reading books than in previous years. The increase was small, nonetheless it was there. As Minkel writes, reading has been on the decline in our country for some time. “The steady drop since the nineteen-fifties correlates directly with the rise of television and visual media, but much of the damage has been done in the past two decades, well after TV had solidified its place in Americans’ lives ... But despite the small gains, a solid half of the country still rarely, if ever, picks up a book for pleasure. In the same press release, the N.E.A. said that “The U.S. population now breaks into two almost equally sized groups—readers and non-readers.””

I recommend Minkel’s story. She cites other published stories that look at both sides of the issue. Is reading really on the decline? Or is the reverse really true--is it on the rise again? What difference does it make? Can it be true, as Gioia states in the NEA report, that “cultural decline” hangs in the balance? Many commenters on the subject actually address different questions, as Minkel points out nicely in her final paragraph: “Le Guin is talking about Americans’ lack of interest in pleasure reading; Poe is searching for innovative ways of teaching people who will never find reading enjoyable; and Crain is warning us against the dangers of thinking that reading is something that we can move past. Book sales might be dropping, but for now, those of us who read are not about to abandon the pastime. The question is how hard we should be working to convert the half of Americans who do not.”

Posted by Joel on October 08 2011 • Books

The Swerve

I just received my copy of a new book written by historian Stephen Greenblatt called The Swerve: How the World Became Modern. The book tells the story of an ancient manuscript that changed how we look at the world. Here is the overview from Barnes and Noble’s site:

“One of the world’s most celebrated scholars, Stephen Greenblatt has crafted both an innovative work of history and a thrilling story of discovery, in which one manuscript, plucked from a thousand years of neglect, changed the course of human thought and made possible the world as we know it.

“Nearly six hundred years ago, a short, genial, cannily alert man in his late thirties took a very old manuscript off a library shelf, saw with excitement what he had discovered, and ordered that it be copied. That book was the last surviving manuscript of an ancient Roman philosophical epic, On the Nature of Things, by Lucretius—a beautiful poem of the most dangerous ideas: that the universe functioned without the aid of gods, that religious fear was damaging to human life, and that matter was made up of very small particles in eternal motion, colliding and swerving in new directions.

“The copying and translation of this ancient book-the greatest discovery of the greatest book-hunter of his age-fueled the Renaissance, inspiring artists such as Botticelli and thinkers such as Giordano Bruno; shaped the thought of Galileo and Freud, Darwin and Einstein; and had a revolutionary influence on writers such as Montaigne and Shakespeare and even Thomas Jefferson.”

For a more detailed review, read Troy Jollimore’s review here.

Posted by Joel on October 07 2011 • Books

Steve Jobs: 1955-2011

The world has lost a true visionary. You may find a wonderful tribute to Steve Jobs over at Apple Insider. Jobs indeed left a legacy of “applied technology that shifted the course of human progress in dramatic ways.” He wasn’t just a programmer, or simply a designer or even a marketer. He was all of those things. He had the grand vision of how things should work and be, and he had the personal gifts of perseverance and strength to gather the resources to see his vision to fruition. In some of the tributes that I read yesterday, some writers mentioned lessons that Steve Jobs taught us. A couple important ones were that new ideas and true vision don’t come from focus groups. And another one was that you can only connect the dots by looking back, not forward. One added lesson is to never be afraid of failure.

Thank you Steve Jobs for not only giving us wonderful products and films, but for showing us how science can blend with the liberal arts to enrich our lives. I think an early Apple slogan says it best: “Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.”

Posted by Joel on October 06 2011 • Current Affairs