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TODD SMITH — How the public approaches facts and information

TODD SMITH

How does today’s audience engage with news, facts and information?

Does the subject hook them? How much do they trust the sources? How eager are they to learn? What is competing for their attention? How much access do they have to the information in the first place?

A new Pew Research Center survey explores these five broad dimensions of people’s engagement with information and finds that a couple of elements particularly stand out when it comes to their enthusiasm: their level of trust in information sources and their interest in learning, particularly about digital skills. It turns out there are times when these factors align – when people trust information sources and they are eager to learn, or when they distrust sources and have less interest in learning. There are other times when these factors go in opposite directions: people are leery of information sources but enthusiastic about learning.

Combining views toward new information – and their appetites for it – allows audiences to create an “information-engagement typology” that highlights the differing ways that Americans deal with these pressures.

There are five groups that fall along a spectrum ranging from fairly high engagement with information to wariness of it, according to Pew Research Center.

Roughly four-in-10 adults (38 percent) are in groups that have relatively strong interest and trust in information sources and learning. About half (49 percent) are in groups that are relatively disengaged and not very enthusiastic about information or about gaining more training, especially when it comes to navigating digital information. Another 13 percent occupy a middle area: They are not trusting of information sources, but they show higher interest in learning than those in the more information-wary groups.

The Eager and Willing – 22 percent 

At one end of the information-engagement spectrum is a group called the Eager and Willing. Compared with all the other groups on this spectrum, they exhibit the highest levels of interest in news and trust in key information sources, as well as strong interest in learning when it comes to their own digital skills and literacy. They are not necessarily confident of their digital abilities, but they are anxious to learn. One compelling trend about this group is its demographic profile: More than half the members of this group are minorities: 31 percent are Hispanic; 21 percent are black and 38 percent are white, while the remainder are in other racial and ethnic groups.

The Confident – 16 percent 

Alongside the Eager and Willing are the Confident, made up of one-in-six Americans and combine a strong interest in information, high levels of trust in information sources, and self-assurance that they can navigate the information landscape on their own. Few feel they need to update their digital skills and they are very self-reliant as they handle information. This group is disproportionately white, quite well educated and fairly comfortable economically. And one-third of the Confident (31 percent) are between the ages of 18 and 29, the highest share in this age range of any group.

The Cautious and Curious – 13 percent 

The Cautious and Curious have a strong interest in news and information, even though they do not have high levels of trust in the sources of news and information – particularly national news organizations, financial institutions and the government. But they are interested in growth, with a great deal of interest in improving digital skills and literacy. This group differs very little from the general population’s average, although its members have somewhat lower levels of educational attainment than the mean.

The Doubtful – 24 percent 

The Doubtful are less interested in news and information than those in the previous groups. They are leery of news and information sources, particularly local and national news. They also have very busy lives, which could be why they also show little interest in updating their digital skills or information literacy. The Doubtful are the most middle-aged of the groups. They tilt towards being white and they are also relatively well educated and above average in their economic status.

The Wary – 25 percent 

At the edge of the spectrum are the Wary. They are the least engaged with information. They have very low interest in news and information, low trust in sources of news and information and little interest in acquiring information skills or literacies. That places them at a distance from other Americans in terms of engagement with information. This group is heavily male (59 percent) and one-third are ages 65 or older.

Social media platforms becoming news sources of choice

Two-thirds (67 percent) of U.S. adults get news from social media sites, up from last year’s figure of 62 percent, according to another Pew Research Center study. But not all platforms are equal in delivering news to users, according to the research:

» Facebook still beats out every other social media site as the top news bearer among social media sites, with 45 percent of Americans reporting getting news from Facebook. That’s indicative of the fact that a larger percentage of Americans (66 percent) use Facebook than the other social media sites in the survey.

» For Twitter, 74 percent of its users get news there (up 15 percentage points from last year). Twenty-nine percent of Snapchat users get news on the platform (up 12 percentage points from last year).

» For YouTube, 32 percent of its users get news there (up 21 percentage points from last year).

» Why they might be up: For Twitter, Pew points to Trump’s use of Twitter to make announcements in addition to the platform’s efforts to promote to news publishers its ability to spread news. When it comes to Snapchat, keep in mind that it has been partnering with CNN, NBC, The New York Times, and other news groups to publish Discover stories that might be upping that news consumption percentage among users. On the YouTube front, it’s added a “breaking news” summary on its homepage and has expanded YouTubeTV as well.

» Keep that in perspective: 15 percent of Americans report using Twitter while 11 percent report getting news on it; 18 percent of Americans report using Snapchat while 5 percent report getting news on it; 58 percent of Americans report using YouTube while 18 percent report getting news there.

» Stable reports: Facebook, Reddit, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Tumblr all maintained about the same percentage of users who said they consumed news on those platforms as last year.

» Pew asked about WhatsApp for the first time this year in this survey, and 23 percent of its users get news there.

MegaWatt Mic: J.J. Watt raises $37 Million + for hurricane victims

J.J. Watt is not only a super hero on the field, he may be a bigger one off!

His recent off-the-field performance to aid victims of Hurricane Harvey has certainly vaulted him to epic status!

In the wake of the disaster, on Aug. 26, the three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year launched a fund on YouCaring.com to raise money for victims with an initial goal of $200,000. At the time, that seemed like a sizable yet attainable goal. Looking back, perhaps Watt – and all of us – underestimated the spirit of unity and goodwill from citizens across the land to help our brothers and sisters in need.

The fundraiser brought in an astonishing $37.1 million, more than 185 times his initial goal. More than 200,000 people donated, meaning Watt got as many donors as he expected dollars.

This kind of giving from the heart during a detrimental national tragedy has sparked anew the great American spirit – and reinforces how the heroes and icons in our midst can give flight to triumph over tragedy, and bring hope back to Houston, and beyond. It’s a golden beacon in the storms of life.

Each week, The Spin Cycle will bestow a Golden Mic Award to the person, group or company in the court of public opinion that best exemplifies the tenets of solid PR, marketing and advertising – and those who don’t. Stay tuned – and step-up to the mic! And remember … Amplify Your Brand!

Todd Smith is president and chief communications officer of Deane, Smith & Partners, a full-service branding, PR, marketing and advertising firm with offices in Jackson. The firm — based in Nashville, Tenn. — is also affiliated with Mad Genius. Contact him at todd@deanesmithpartners.com, and follow him @spinsurgeon.

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