Americans are worried about the amount of fake news floating around and are depending on journalists to sort it out. But they don’t want to pay for it.
So, there’s the rub.
In recent months, the Pew Research Center released reports examining American views on news consumption, particularly their expectations and willingness to fund it.
Nearly seven in 10 U.S. adults (68%) say made-up news and information greatly affects their faith in government, according to a June 5 report. This concern has led to 54% losing confidence in their fellow Americans.
The concern about fake news ranks higher than issues of terrorism, undocumented immigration, racism and sexism.
Half of social media users have stopped following people online because they were posting what was believed to be fabricated information. That seems a bit low because so many people act poorly or irresponsibly in their virtual worlds.
More concerning is that half of respondents are avoiding someone because that person might bring up made-up news in conversation. When people cannot have a dialogue, it only erodes public discourse and furthers existing divides.
We are not listening to or learning from each other.
Americans see most made-up news around politics (73%), with the biggest problem centered on national news (58%) compared to local (18%).
With the 2020 presidential election cycle in full swing, this concern is only going to get worse. The blame for this fiction-as-news problem is placed largely on politicians (57%) and advocacy groups (53%), though journalists got some culpability (36%).
Republicans are three times more likely than Democrats to blame journalists. GOP poll participants point to activists as fake-news makers at twice the rate of Democrats.
Americans say the group with the most responsibility to reduce bad information is journalists (53%), followed by “the public” (20%) then government (12%).
More Republicans place the duty of fixing the fake news problem on the news media (69%) than Democrats (42%).
It appears no matter how frustrated people get with what they read or hear from news media, the press is trusted far greater than the releases prepared by elected officials, public agencies and private companies.
Fake news isn’t about the typos or honest mistakes found in copy. It isn’t about not liking the topic of a story. It’s about applying American ethical and legal standards of journalism. Reporters attend public meetings, sift through public documents, interview sources and have a sense for how everything impacts a community.
Making uncomfortable calls to unwilling sources is part of the job to ensure everyone has a chance to comment.
There is nothing fake about that, and it’s time consuming.
However, Americans don’t want to support news organizations financially, according to a March 26 Pew Research Center report.
Only 14% of Americans say they paid for local news in the past year. That includes any subscriptions, memberships or donations. This coincides with a 67% reduction in paid advertising since 2005.
Yet, seven in 10 Americans think their local news media are doing very well or somewhat well financially (71%). That’s a head-scratching disconnect.
Consumers loyal to print newspapers see more of the economic strain than online or television news users. Print products have shrunk in size and content, reflecting economic realities.
It’s a disappointing shift for readers and journalists, who are now doing more jobs with less resources.
Younger generations prefer online-only news, usually found through a social media platform. But only 8% of those users pay for that news content, undermining the business model of the content producers.
Having free news alternatives is the most common reason for not paying (49%) followed by lacking interest in local news (26%), cost (12%) and quality (10%).
Those free alternatives are likely playing a factor in the proliferation of fake news, and the lack of interest just makes me sad.
All this comes down to education: knowing how to sort fact from fiction, being media literate and making connections between cost and quality news content.
Most media organizations have digital-only packages with monthly prices lower than what many people pay for coffee each week.
Journalism isn’t going away but is being stressed.
Americans recognize the public importance of the Fourth Estate, but they need to recognize the economic value, too.