What liberal media?
That’s what you might say after reading a new study — “The American Journalist in the Digital Age” — by Lars Willnat and David H . Weaver, two professors at the Indiana University School of Journalism. They’ve continued a survey that began in 1971, and has been conducted roughly every 10 years since.
The current survey, based on interviews with 1,080 journalists conducted in fall of 2013, finds that more journalists are identifying themselves as “independent” than ever before in the history of the survey. In 2013, 50.2 percent of journalists said they were independent, the highest percentage recorded in the last five decades. Previously, the highest percentage of journalists saying they were independent was in 1982, when 39.1 percent said so.
Meanwhile, 28.1 percent said they were Democrats, and just 7.1 percent said they were Republicans. (The final 14.6 percent said “other.”) The percentage of Republican journalists — which peaked in 1971 at 25.7 percent — has never been lower in the history of the survey. Then again, the percentage of Democratic journalists — which fluctuated between 35.5 percent and 44.1 percent over the last five decades — has never been lower, either.
Those numbers mirror a national Gallup poll, which reported in 2012 that 40 percent of all Americans identified as political independents, a record high, while 31 percent identified as Democrats and 27 percent Republicans. The trend line for independents was rising, however, while the trend line for the two parties was falling.
But the survey results run counter to Gallup polls. A 2011 survey that found 55 percent of people have not very much or no confidence in the news media also found that 47 percent believed the media to be “too liberal.” The Indiana survey measures party-registration, but not necessarily underlying political attitudes.
But if journalists really are growing more independent politically, they’re apparently less likely to be that way when it comes to doing their jobs. The survey also concluded that just 33.6 percent of journalists believe they have professional autonomy, the lowest percentage ever recorded in the survey, and nearly half the 60 percent level found in 1971 and 1982.
And while the percentage of journalists who say their watchdog role is vital has never been higher — fully 78.2 percent said the role of “investigating government claims” is extremely important — fewer believe in using confidential government or corporate documents without authorization. In 1992, 81.8 percent of journalists said the occasional use of those documents would be justified. In 2002, that number dropped to 77.8 percent. Today, it’s just 57.7 percent, despite the fact that a huge leak of unauthorized government documents — those revealing the NSA surveillance program — won a Pulitzer Prize this year for The Washington Post and The Guardian.
Not only that, but the percentage who justified “badgering unwilling informants” fell to 37.7 percent, down from 52 percent in 2002.