Did You Know?

Separate news and opinion, says the public and clearly label them, say journalists

Amid accusations that their work is biased, journalists largely agree on one fix that might help: Most think that their news organization should clearly mark what is news and what is commentary.

The finding was part of a 2018 study (PDF) by the Media Insight Project, an initiative of the American Press Institute and the AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, which sought to assess the gaps in understanding between journalists and the public and offer ways to fill those gaps with trust. The study surfaced strong opinions from both journalists and nonjournalists about bias and accuracy in reporting.

One of many questions asked of news consumers was how easily they could tell the difference between news and opinion in the news outlets they most frequently read, watched, or listened to.

The study, titled Americans and the News Media: What they do — and don’t — understand about each other, found that 75% of the general public said it was “very” or “somewhat” easy to distinguish news articles from opinion pieces in the news outlet they rely on most often. But only 43% said they could easily tell the difference on Twitter or Facebook. 

Those who subscribe to a newspaper seem more knowledgeable than nonsubscribers: The study reported that 70% of subscribers to local papers said they could easily tell the difference between news and opinion, while fewer than half (49%) of nonsubscribers said they were able to do so. 

Which means a lot of people are confused. And confusion can lead to mistrust. 

The study’s authors then “offered journalists a list of transparency methods that have been advocated by journalism reform advocates and scholars” to build trust with readers, viewers and listeners. The top answer: Nearly 8 in 10 journalists said that their news organization should make the difference between news and opinion more distinct. 

The study goes into some detail about the movement toward transparency (the need for journalists to explain themselves and their work more clearly) — for example, it could be something as detailed as showing journalists’ work methods or as simple as always putting a label on opinion pieces. As the authors wrote: “The public is ready for a relationship with more understanding and trust, if news media can take the right steps to earn it.”