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Research reveals conflicting needs from news consumers

June 5, 2023 | By Suzanne S. LaPierre – Independent Media Reporter @Bookmouser

News consumers want deeper understanding of their communities and more variety of topics covered. However, they also prefer short-format stories that appear on platforms they already use. Opinions of adults in the United States and the United Kingdom align when it comes to lingering distrust of news and fatigue with politics combined with preferences for quick and convenient news, according to two new studies.

U.S. adults want better representation, practical news

A qualitative study of 5,000 U.S. residents by the American Journalism Project offers unique perspective due to improved inclusion of harder-to-reach demographics such as lower-income, minority and immigrant communities. The study used one hundred community ambassadors to reach people across the country who are not typically among the high-information news consumers often represented in surveys. Focusing on what residents want from local news, the ambassadors gathered input via focus groups, phone calls, and text messages.

Overall, U.S. adults surveyed expressed the following needs:

  • News that is local and can be acted upon
  • Reporting that understands their communities and more fully reflects them
  • Content that is convenient to find and use
  • Better representation of young people, people of color, LGBTQ+, and immigrant communities within news organizations
  • More fact-based coverage, less opinion.

Respondents from lower-income communities, communities of color, and/or immigrant communities said they want local news reporters to engage more deeply with them, preferably including journalists who are from their communities. They want news organizations to report on a wide range of topics in their neighborhoods, not just crime. Where there are safety issues, they want practical guidance to protect their families and advocate for change. They want local news to be of and with their communities, to report news that accurately reflects the totality of their lives and is useful to people in their communities.

Spanish-speaking respondents made the point that language translations alone do not compensate for an absence of insider perspective. English-language learners also want news media to understand that whatever language is being used to report news, immigrants care about a variety of news topics, not just immigration-related stories.

While some U.S. respondents expressed distrust for “the media” at large, especially when it comes to national news coverage of political stories, they also voiced a desire to have a central place to rely on for facts and information. Some said they trust community organizations that provide direct services more than news outlets because those entities seemed to care more about their needs. This aligns with the stated desire for news that provides concrete actionable resources.

U.K. adults want trustworthy, convenient news

Some parallels surface in the study of 2,000 U.K. adults by Tickaroo, a live blogging and video platform. The study found the following trends among U.K. news consumers:

  • Diminishing trust in news
  • Declining interest in political news
  • Preference for consuming news on mobile devices
  • Preference for shorter-form content

U.K. adults expressed concern about misinformation, “fake news,” and spin. 31% said they do not trust the news very much, 55% say they retain some skepticism about the news, and 8% said they hardly trust the news at all. According to Tickaroo’s quantitative research, U.K. users’ reasons for not trusting news ranged from the perception that journalists create spin (43%) to concerns about misreporting (42%) and claims of “fake news” (34%).

Where the U.K. and U.S. studies align

Both recent studies found elevated levels of distrust in news as well as a preference for short-form content. U.S. and U.K. residents expressed fatigue with negative news and politics, and both groups are concerned with getting factual news with less bias.

Aligning with those in the U.K., U.S. residents studied admitted that they often do not seek out news, preferring news to fit into their daily routines and be easily available on platforms they already use. These platforms include popular social media sites, email, and even messaging platforms and text messaging groups.

“Trust Kits” offer guidance for newsrooms

To combat distrust, news audiences need to know how facts are sourced, how newsrooms decide which stories to cover, and which pieces are meant to be read as opinion. Transparency is the lynchpin of these concerns.

Assistance to improve trust in news can be found in Trust Kits launched by Reynolds Journalism Institute and the American Press Institute. Tips focus on the following solution areas:

  • Increasing engagement by listening to and reaching new audiences
  • Making ethical guidelines public and correcting mistakes
  • Explaining how coverage decisions are made and sourced
  • Clearly distinguishing between fact and opinion content
  • Strengthening newsroom culture

It is a balancing act to foster a deeper understanding of communities and provide more varied coverage while also summarizing content into bite-sized packages and appealing formats. However, it is a challenge that must be addressed to reach and maintain news audiences.

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