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June Pew Research Studies State of the News Industry and Issue of Separating Fact from Opinion

Two important news audience studies released this month by the Pew Research Center provide a snapshot of the state of the news industry as well as a significant challenge facing all newsrooms – the ability of the news consuming public to separate fact from opinion.

The center is a nonpartisan American fact tank based in Washington, D.C.  Pew researches and provides information on social issues, public opinion, and demographic trends shaping the U.S. by conducting public opinion polls as well as by demographic and media content analysis.

The center this month released the latest in its annual reports on key audience and economic indicators for a variety of sectors within the U.S. news media industry.  Some of the results should be no surprise to the broadcast industry.  Traditional “legacy” news outlets such as broadcast television and radio as well as print newspapers continue to lose audience.  Local television news, however, continues to be the dominant source for local news by consumers.  As one would expect, digital news sources continue to grow in use by the public, which is good news for station websites.

These “state of the news media” reports go all the way back to 2004.  A prescient observation from the 2004 study - “Americans think journalists are sloppier, less professional, less moral, less caring, more biased, less honest about their mistakes, and generally more harmful to democracy than they did in the 1980s.”  Pew conducted new research earlier this year (also released this month) in its “first step in understanding how people parse through information as factual or opinion.”  It is also well worth a read as it points to the long-term credibility issue for newsrooms.  "There is a striking difference in certain Americans in distinguishing what are factual statements and what are not and that depends on one's level of digital savviness, political savviness," Amy Mitchell, director of journalism research at Pew Research Center, said in an interview this month with Reuters.

Some of the key findings of the report:

  • Only a quarter of U.S. adults could fully identify factual statements, as opposed to opinion, in news stories.
  • Republicans and Democrats are more likely to think news statements are factual when they appeal to their side – even if they are opinions.
  • News brand labels in this study had a modest impact on separating factual statements from opinion.
  • When Americans call a statement factual they overwhelmingly also think it is accurate.
  • Americans tend to disagree with factual statements they incorrectly label as opinions.

Questions?  Contact TAB's Michael Schneider or call (512) 322-9944.

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