July 16, 2018
A new national survey shows that although nearly one in five Americans immediately associate the word “news” with the word “fake,” only a tiny number use that word to describe local news.
The News Co/Lab at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, with support from Google Surveys, asked a nationally representative sample of more than 6,000 people from May 7-10, 2018, to do a simple word-association test using the word “news” and the phrase “local news.”
When asked the question, “What is the first word you think of when you hear the word news?” the word “fake” was the most popular answer. But when asked “What is the first word you think of when you hear the phrase local news?,” people were most likely to respond with hometown, familiar terms such as where they live or the name of their local newspaper or television station.
The close association between the words news and fake is of little surprise, given the rise in popularity of the term “fake news” following the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The term, which originally referred to news hoaxes but was redefined by politicians to mean any news they did not like, helped fuel public mistrust of the news industry.
But attitudes about news are more neutral than the fervor over fake news would suggest, the new survey said. And when it comes to local news, a full 68 percent of those surveyed used neutral terms.
“Americans still see local news through a different lens than they use for news in general,” said Eric Newton, News Co/Lab co-founder and ASU professor. “Local news does not mean political bluster. It means home.”
But when people were asked to first think about news and then local news, the negative perceptions of news in general appeared to rub off on local news. Twenty-five percent of the reactions to local news were negative when first asked about news overall, compared with 17 percent for those who were just asked about local news.
Survey results also found that most people think it’s easy to tell the difference between fact and opinion in three areas: the news in general (61%), cable television (57%) news and local news (63%). But there is still a significant percentage of people — 16 percent — who have difficulty telling fact from opinion in the news overall. And among those who associated news or local news with “fake,” the difficulty is more pronounced, with one in four reporting difficulty telling fact from opinion in overall news.
The full report, including links to publicly viewable Google Survey results, is on the News Co/Lab’s website.
The News Co/Lab is a collaborative lab aimed at helping the public find new ways of understanding and engaging with news and information.
Kristy Roschke, managing director of the ASU News Co/Lab, is a media scholar and educator. She previously served as executive director of KJZZ – SPOT 127 Youth Media Center, a community initiative of the Phoenix NPR member station that mentors and empowers the next-generation of digital storytellers.