The news is not altogether good for the media these days.

A relatively small number of people surveyed—only 36 percent—believe news organizations “get the facts straight,” according to a USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup poll.

This figure marks a 15 percent decline since mid-1989 and is up only slightly from its low of 32 percent in December 2000 during the confusion surrounding the most recent presidential election results.
What does this have to do with churches?

The media’s low marks in the trust department merely reflect an overall trend, according to Todd Gitlin, a Columbia University journalism professor. “I think you’ll find almost all institutions declining in popular repute,” he says.

The regularity of journalism scandals from the early 1980s to today has no doubt contributed to the public’s waning trust in the media. The most recent, involving New York Times reporter Jayson Blair and his plagiarizing and fabricating of stories, probably helped plunge the trust level even lower.

But, Gitlin says, “This is a cynical time. People don’t need a lot of reason to become disabused of institutions.”

And for some people, that’s what the church is—an institution they can no longer trust. Like some in the media, some in the church have done things that erode the trust of their own members as well as those in the unbelieving world.

The media has a lot of repair work to do. So does the church.
We in the church can learn a thing or two from these revelations about trust and the media, if we’ll pay attention.

Interestingly, people who have actually been part of a news story report a much more favorable trust level of the media. Seventy-eight percent believe the coverage related to them and their story was accurate.

“It’s easier to hate a category than an individual,” says Matthew Felling of the Center for Media and Public Affairs in Washington, D.C.

So, church, take hope. People who have personal experiences with us are more likely to trust us.

When that fragile trust is broken, we can work to restore it, but not without great sacrifice and new levels of accountability.

We can’t expect people to be drawn to us when we don’t trust each other, when we’re divided and sometimes even hostile to one another.

Distrust and divisions render the church powerless in its witness. People get enough of that everywhere else, after all.

Shouldn’t the church be the one place people can learn to trust again?

Jan Turrentine is managing editor of Acacia Resources.

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