The extent of personal experience a person has with journalism — including being covered or interviewed in the news, or having some education in journalism themselves — impacts how well a person understands news processes and concepts.
We explored several ways adults may have had personal experiences with journalism. We then examined how those experiences affected their view of journalism.
Education and hands-on experience factor into trust and understanding
One important category is news experience in an educational setting — taking a class or working in student‑run media. About a quarter of people say they have worked on a school publication of some sort. Just 16 percent report experience with taking a class on the topic of media or news literacy.
A third of the public has none of these experiences learning about the news media in school — not even discussing current events in the news or taking a course in news literacy. And less than 1 in 10, or 6 percent, has done all of them.
Did taking a news literacy course or working on a school publication materially change people’s understanding of some key news concepts? Did it correlate to people trusting the press?
Media literacy classes appear to have some impact in educating the public about the news. People who have taken a class about media or news literacy are more familiar with common journalistic terms than those who have not. They are also more likely to correctly understand how journalists use anonymous sources (65 percent vs. 57 percent).
It may not be surprising that those who have more educational experience related to news are more familiar with terms and concepts about journalism. However, it is notable that those with such experience — who have taken a news literacy or journalism class, or participated in a school newspaper, radio, or TV station — are more familiar with every term we asked about, except “breaking news,” with which both groups hold similar levels of familiarity.
Those who were involved with a course or school media also have an easier time differentiating between opinion and news. Sixty‑one percent say it is easy to distinguish opinion from news generally, compared to 52 percent of others. Those with such media experience also report having an easier time discerning between opinion and news on their own preferred sources (79 percent vs. 72 percent, respectively). And they say it is easier to distinguish opinion and news on PBS, public radio, and local TV news.
However, experience with a media literacy course or school media does not improve knowledge of whether journalists pay for sources. Those who have taken a news literacy class and those who have not are equally likely to think journalists pay sources for their information.
Further, educational experience with news does not seem to affect Americans’ views about the media’s direction. Majorities of those who have taken a news literacy or journalism class, or participated in a school newspaper, say the news media is headed in the wrong direction. Each group also holds similar levels of trust in the media in general, and over the last year.
However, those who have educational experience with the media do hold slightly more positive views of news organizations in general than others (40 percent positive vs. 34 percent positive). They also express more positive views of their own preferred news sources, national newspapers, NPR, PBS, and individual journalists they follow.
How interactions with journalists or involvement in news coverage affects understanding and trust in news
Most people’s direct experience with news media comes not as students but as consumers, interacting in some way with a news organization or being involved or having firsthand knowledge of a story.
We asked the public whether they have had a number of experiences with the news media either once, more than once, or never. The public reports that their most common experience is encountering journalism about something they know a lot about — their town, hobby, company, or such. Nearly three‑quarters of people (73 percent) report interacting with the media this way either once or more than once.
And 6 in 10 have been witness to a news event for which they later saw coverage.
Far fewer, 32 percent, say they have ever personally been interviewed by a journalist, and a third (34 percent) have known a journalist.
And how do people feel about the times when they knew a lot or were part of a story? In general, they feel pretty good. The public reports that their direct experience with the news was mostly unbiased and fair, and that news stories got the important facts right at minimum, with minor inaccuracies.
Among those interviewed by a journalist for a news story, nearly 1 in 3 say the reporting was entirely accurate. About half (51 percent) say most facts were correct though there were minor inaccuracies. About 8 in 10 say the reporting was unbiased and fair.
Those who have had a social media post included in a story do not feel as good as those interviewed directly. Two in 10 say the reporting containing their social media post was entirely accurate, and nearly half (49 percent) say the facts were correct with minor inaccuracies. But 18 percent say it was mostly inaccurate/got important facts wrong, and 38 percent indicate it was biased and unfair.
People who’ve seen content on a topic they feel they know a lot about, such as their company or profession, as well as people who witnessed or experienced a news event, both feel pretty good about the outcome. Over 6 in 10 say there were minor inaccuracies, but important facts were correct, and over 7 in 10 say the reporting was unbiased and fair.
Journalists interact with the public more frequently on social media than through interviews
Overall, people seem most satisfied with news stories in which they were interviewed directly by a journalist, but our study also suggests that that is happening somewhat less often than some other kinds of encounters journalists have with the public.
The internet has made journalism more interactive, dramatically increasing the ways and frequency with which people in newsrooms hear from audiences. Social media contact is now the broadest way that journalists interact with the public. Fully 72 percent of journalists surveyed say they engage with audiences on social media daily or weekly. Seven in 10 hear from audiences with story ideas – though that could come in various forms. Two‑thirds have heard from audiences about stories they have worked on via social media, far outstripping the comments that come on news organizations’ websites (47 percent). At the same time, 62 percent of journalists say they do interviews with a member of the public this frequently.