One-third Americans rely on news platforms they acknowledge are less reliable: Study

A new report by the RAND Corporation examines how reliability, demographics and political partisanship factor into news choices and how often people seek out differing viewpoints in the news.

The report draws from a national survey of 2,543 Americans is the latest in a series of RAND-funded reports into Truth Decay, the phenomenon defined as diminishing reliance on facts, data and analysis in American public life.

One third Americans rely on less reliable news platforms

One-third of Americans rely on news platforms they acknowledge are less reliable, mainly social media and peers. The other two-thirds of the public consider their primary news sources trustworthy, mainly print news and broadcast television. 

People whose primary news sources are social media and in-person contacts are generally younger and female, and they tend to have less education than a college degree and lower household incomes.
 

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'Lack of time and competing demands'

"Despite acknowledging that there are more reliable sources for news, people with demands on their time may be limited to using less reliable platforms,"  said Michael Pollard, a sociologist and lead author of the report. 

"A lack of time and competing demands may explain why a third of Americans turn to news sources they deem less reliable, which suggests improving the quality of news content or teaching people how to 'better consume' news isn't enough to address Truth Decay," said Jennifer Kavanagh, senior political scientist and co-author of the report. 

"Media companies and other news providers may need to provide more easily accessible and digestible ways for individuals to consume high quality investigative journalism."

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41 per cent believe news has become less reliable

About 44 percent of respondents reported that news is as reliable now as in the past, while 41 percent said it has become less reliable and 15 percent - mostly women, racial and ethnic minorities and those without college degrees - said it is more reliable.

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Political partisanship linked to will to seek out different views

Asked whether they ever seek out alternate viewpoints when catching up on the news, 54 percent said they "sometimes" do, 20 percent said, "always or almost always," 17 percent said "infrequently," and 9 percent said, "never or almost never."

"Political partisanship was linked to whether or not individuals were willing to seek out different viewpoints," Pollard said.

"For example, those who self-identified as more liberal were more likely than conservatives to report that they 'never or almost never' seek differing views."

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Common combinations of news media types

The report also identified the four most common combinations of news media types consumed by Americans: print publications and broadcast television; online; radio; and social media and peers.
 

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Younger more likely to rely on peers and social media

Age was an important predictor of how respondents obtain news. Perhaps unsurprisingly, those who are younger were more likely to get news from social media and peers, while older individuals were more likely to get their news from print publications and broadcast television.
 

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College educated less likely to reply on social media

Those who are college-educated were less likely to get their news from social media and peers, instead opting for radio and online sources. Those with less than a college education were more likely to report "never or almost never" seeking out news with alternate viewpoints.

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Married people more likely to reply on peers

Those who are married were three times more likely than singles to rate their peers as the most reliable source for news. Unmarried people were more likely than married people to report they "always or almost always" seek out sources with differing views.
 

(Photograph:AFP)