Survey Shows that Americans are Becoming Savvier News Consumers

With the recent release of Michael Wolff’s exposé “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” and President Trump’s subsequent allegations that the book is a “work of fiction,” it’s worth taking a look at how Americans are coping with a media atmosphere where seemingly every reported fact is called into question.  In the wake of so many fake news scandals, have they been taking steps to verify the truth of what they read?  Happily, it seems that the answer is yes.

About 30% of Americans engage with the news every day of the week, and almost three out of four of all Americans do something to verify the news they receive, according to a new survey by the First Amendment Center of the Newseum Institute.

The national survey, conducted about three weeks ago, showed that 72 percent of Americans said they check what they read by looking for additional information in other news sources, and virtually the same number said they also test the validity of what they have read or seen by talking with others.

The survey was conducted and supported by the Fors Marsh Group, which also partnered with the First Amendment Center on the Center’s annual State of the First Amendment (SOFA) survey – done since 1997, checking on Americans’ views on freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly and petition, and contemporary First Amendment issues.

The recent survey found many Americans also employ other media literacy tactics as well:

  • 58% reported that they “often” or “sometimes” check the source publishing a story, and approximately the same number said they read the comments posted about a story;
  • Just 43% said they rely on a rating from a fact-checking website – the least-utilized method of verifying a story – with just 18% are frequently relying on such ratings. And 30% said they have never used a rating from fact-checking site.

 

Middle-aged Americans (ages 35-53) are more likely to take action to verify their news than their older and younger counterparts. Unsurprisingly, age also has an impact on the type of news media a person consumes, with younger age groups reporter higher levels of social media usage and older age groups consuming more television news.

The media literacy prize goes to those who get their information from a national newspaper, the  survey found.  All factors considered, Americans who frequently read a national newspaper are more likely to try to verify the information they receive than those who don’t.

“While we hesitate to draw sweeping conclusions about why this is, perhaps this suggests that the ideal way of consuming news is with a newspaper spread out on the table (or open in your browser window)–and with phone in hand, call a friend to see what they think, while looking for additional information from other publications,” said Lata Nott, executive director of the First Amendment Center.

The 2017 SOFA survey, released in June, showed the negative impact that the “fake news” phenomenon had on American trust in the news media. 74% of Americans did not think that fake news reports should be protected by the First Amendment, and 34 % reported a decrease in trust in news obtained from social media.

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