Did You Know?

Trust starts with understanding but when it comes to basics, that’s lacking

Half the public is unaware (or only slightly aware) of what “op-ed” means.

That on its own isn’t necessarily a problem. What is a problem is what that and other results from a June 2018 Media Insight Project survey reflect: the chasm in understanding between newsrooms and the public on some basics of journalism.

The Media Insight Project, an initiative of the American Press Institute and the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, starts with the premise that the public’s trust of journalism is based on an understanding of how journalism works, including its language. 

It tested this premise through two surveys: one for members of the public and one for journalists. One question for the public was about their familiarity with specific newsroom terms or concepts; journalists were asked whether they thought Americans understood those terms or concepts. 

The results showed “substantial confusion on major concepts. On a battery of nine core journalism terms, a majority of Americans are very familiar with only three of them”: what a political endorsement is, what breaking news is, and what the difference is between a news story and a press release. 

Only 28% of people queried said they were completely or very familiar with the term “op-ed.” Journalists gave the public even less credit; only 15% of journalists thought the public would understand it. (The term is from print journalism and refers to the placement of opinion pieces on the page opposite the editorial page.)

The study’s authors suggest that the news media should better explain itself. And they note: “The low opinion journalists have of their audience may be a major underlying factor that gets in the way of winning back trust. As journalists and their news organizations pursue strategies to improve their relationship with the public, it’s worth noting that the public’s views and behaviors may not be as simplistic or dim as journalists make them out to be.”