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Brian Williams and millennial distrust of the media

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Brian Williams’ admission that he fabricated a dramatic tale of Iraq War reporting, and NBC’s apparent failure to punish him, has shaken faith in an American institution—the nightly news. But for millennials, it might simply reinforce what they already believe.

Poll after poll has found that young people are significantly less likely to trust or watch traditional news than generations before them. This is partly because millennials are simply less trusting in general—only 19 percent think people can be trusted, compared to 40 percent of Baby Boomers.

Harvard University’s Institute of Politics discovered last year that just 11 percent of millennials say they trust the media to do the right thing all or most of the time.

Researchers for the journal Psychological Science found that “Millennials’ approval of major institutions — from Congress and corporations to the news media and educational and religious institutions — dropped more sharply than other generations in the decade that followed the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.” And keep in mind that overall, even for older generations, trust in the media recently hit all-time lows. 

Another study, by research and marketing groups Crowdtap and Ipsos, discovered that millennials frequently choose peer-created content over professional media. They’re more likely to get their news from small blogs or their friends’ Facebook status than NBC. 50 percent said this “user generated content” was more trustworthy than other types of media, and 35 percent rated it more memorable.

Only 34 percent said they trusted TV as a source. Radio and print did slightly better, but not compared to the 50 percent who trusted social media, 68 percent who trusted peer reviews, and 74 percent who trusted conversation with friends.

In 2004, 21 percent of millennials turned to Saturday Night Live and the Daily Show for presidential campaign news—almost the same as the percent, 23, that looked to the nightly news broadcasts from ABC, CBS, and NBC.

Millennials also just don’t really watch broadcast television. Half of consumers between the ages of 13 and 34 rate their Netflix subscriptions “very valuable,” while only 36 percent say the same for cable, and 42 percent broadcast, according to a recent study commissioned by the Consumer Electronics Association.

And even when millennials do watch broadcast or cable, it’s often not on an actual TV broadcasting live: they stream shows to smartphones and tablets, or DVR content for later viewing.

Watch Arrested Development on Netflix and scroll through Twitter, or sit through hours of commercials to hear Brian Williams misremembering facts? It’s not hard to guess which choice millennials will make.


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