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How sensationalism and lack of education erode our faith in news

As part of our Collectif series (see more here), Media Ecologist’s Jack Myers discusses the fact that 43% of Americans have lost trust in all news sources, and outlines the reasons for it. He also puts forward solutions, not just to restore trust in media, but also to protect the very fabric of our societal cohesion.

In a recent revelation, CivicScience’s study lays bare a startling fact: a staggering 43% of Americans have lost trust in all news sources and organizations. It’s a disconcerting reality that stems from a profound failure within the media industry to invest in educating the masses on discerning truth from fiction, fact from fake news.

Ironically, it’s the media itself that shoulders much of the blame for this erosion of trust, with no signs that the giants in the industry are eager to reverse the tide. It’s not just that opinion and personalities have replaced news, or that social media reigns as a primary information source – this is the new norm. What’s more alarming is that economic incentives fund mistrust while support for an informed populace dwindles.

The media landscape’s relentless pursuit of profit-driven models, coupled with the insatiable appetite for sensationalism among audiences, has catalyzed a lamentable decline in investigative journalism and profound reporting. This unfortunate trend has left audiences bereft of the insights needed for critical thinking, eroding trust in media and dealing a grievous blow to society at large. The only lifeline lies in our commitment to media literacy education and a renewed dedication to providing substantive, enlightening content. This is the path towards reclaiming the media’s traditional role as both educator and guardian of informed discourse.

However, the prospects of this transformation are dim, if not seemingly impossible. A fundamental shift in the profit incentive for media and news must occur, reversing the current destructive patterns and paving the way for a media force that serves the greater good. At the heart of the problem lies a dire deficiency…

* The Alarming Void of Media Literacy:

At the heart of the problem lies a dire deficiency in media literacy among the public. The absence of a solid foundation in critical thinking, information assessment, and media scrutiny renders audiences susceptible to the allure of sensationalist content and clickbait headlines.

* The Education Vacuum:

Budget constraints have crippled educational institutions’ ability to offer comprehensive media literacy programs. Furthermore, the absence of an organized curriculum for media literacy, except in a few universities, has left K-12 education devoid of this critical skill. The result is an audience ill-equipped to distinguish between reliable and unreliable sources, compounding the challenge.

* The Profit-Driven Media Machine:

The media industry increasingly fixates on profit-driven models where advertising revenue and audience engagement reign supreme. Quick, sensational stories often translate into more clicks and views, a tempting prospect for higher advertising revenue. The likelihood of a shift in this mindset is slim.

* The 24/7 News Grind and Digital Duel:

The advent of the 24/7 news cycle and digital media has ushered in an era of fierce competition for audience attention. The pressure to break news quickly and generate traffic leaves scant room for investigative journalism and in-depth reporting.

* Newsroom Shrinking Syndrome:

Economic hardships have besieged many news organizations, resulting in shrinking newsroom staff and resources. Investigative journalism and long-term projects, requiring substantial time and resources, are increasingly incompatible with the profit-driven media landscape.

* Feeding the Sensationalism Beast:

Media organizations have discerned that sensationalist content often garners higher engagement and more viewership. This has prompted a fixation on producing provocative, emotional, and attention-grabbing content, often at the cost of nuance and depth.

* Impact on Critical Thinking:

Sensationalism and shallow content have a detrimental impact on critical thinking skills. Audiences are subjected to simplified narratives and polarized perspectives, discouraging thoughtful analysis and open-mindedness.

* Trust in Tatters:

As media organizations prioritize sensationalism and clickbait, trust in journalism and media outlets has crumbled. The audience grows more skeptical, less reliant on news sources for accurate, comprehensive information.

* Societal Repercussions:

The media industry’s failure to provide in-depth reporting and thoughtful analysis carries dire societal consequences. It fuels the spread of misinformation, fosters misunderstandings of complex issues, and hampers an informed citizenry, jeopardizing democratic discourse and decision-making.

* The Vital Role of Online Learning:

Online learning and media literacy programs can wield a significant influence in addressing these challenges. Equipping individuals with the skills to critically evaluate information sources and demand more substantive content from the media industry is a beacon of hope amid these turbulent times.

Jack Myers
Founder, Media Ecologist


The above op-ed was originally published in The Media Ecologist column at Substack

About: Through Jack Myer’s five decades of research and reporting on the role of media and advertising in culture and society, he has been recognized as the nation’s leading media ecologist and one of the most influential leaders in the history of the media and advertising business.

Jack advises advertising-supported media companies on advancing business growth through cultural change. He is the founder of the MediaVillage Education Foundation, and The Myers Report, all focused on bridging the generational gap through marketplace intelligence, education and professional development. He is founder and chairman of the marketing and advertising community’s Advancing Diversity Hall of Honors, which will induct 16 new members at its annual event in New York City on April 11, 2024. For additional information:; @jackmyersbiz

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