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5 questions with Jesse Holcomb, Pew Research Center

 

by Dave Curley
Originally posted on LinkedIn April 28, 2017

Strategic Communications Professional

Pew Research Center Associate Director of Research Jesse Holcomb has spent years studying what he refers to as “the information revolution.” His insights on this content transformation – and how it has reshaped journalism and the public’s consumption of news – have contributed to many of Pew’s must-read reports on key media trends.

In advance of the upcoming PRSA Maryland Annual Conference, where Jesse will be addressing changes in the news landscape, I spoke with him about the information revolution and a handful of other issues relevant to those of us in the communications field. I’m looking forward to continuing the conversation at the Annual Conference on June 8.

An informal focus group I conducted around the office indicated the term “information revolution” means different things to different people. How do you define it – and how do you study it?

The information revolution is the migration of content to new digital platforms enabled by a growing number of consumer technologies. These new platforms, which are part and parcel of our daily lives, are available on mobile devices that allow us to access news in ways that simply weren’t available in the past. As the use of smartphones and other mobile devices has grown, there has also been the addition of a social aspect of news, making the news ecosystem more interactive. There is now more conversation around news than ever before, with more than six in 10 U.S. adults getting news from social media.

A few years ago, you found that many Washington, D.C. correspondents for local newspapers concentrated on the affect news would have on politicians and/or government organizations rather than the impact it would have on citizens. Is there any research to indicate this trend has changed since the most recent national election?

Empirical social science takes longer to produce than we would sometimes like, but this question is something we’re very interested in continuing to explore. Anecdotally, news consumers have probably seen some public soul-searching on the part of journalists, who are asking themselves if they could have, or should have, done anything differently with regard to their election coverage. Should they have taken a different approach? Or utilized their resources differently? But this is the kind of post-mortem that happens after every election cycle.

Pew Research Center’s 2016 State of the News Media offered a mixed outlook on the industry. Newspapers continue to suffer mightily while cable and network television, in particular, experienced growth in important metrics. Significantly, digital ad spending was up 20 percent – but traditional news media outlets saw a fairly modest share of the money. Can you break down which organizations enjoyed the bulk of the windfall?

A small number of organizations – Facebook, Google, Yahoo, Twitter – eat up a large share of the digital ad market. This has been true for as long as I’ve been studying the issue, and I’ve been tracking it for nearly a decade now. The traditional news media doesn’t tend to see a large percentage of the digital ad market because the money goes to digital service providers who have the ability to scale in a way that newspapers and other outlets simply can’t.

What does Pew Research Center’s analysis of podcasts indicate about their role in today’s news environment?

We track general podcast usage through Edison Research, which has shown consistent growth over the years. In 2016, about 36 percent of Americans said they had listened to a podcast – twice the number that indicated they had listened to a podcast in 2008. It’s important to note these figures aren’t specific to news podcasts. As a researcher, it’s actually quite difficult to survey on this issue because it is a challenge to identify and capture all the different type of podcasts that could fall into the news category – from the most obvious ones to long-form, documentary-style podcasts and even, in some cases, non-fiction literary content. Despite the significant growth in podcasting, Edison Research doesn’t indicate podcasting has reached a market saturation point.

Given all the talk about fake news, what does your latest research show about public trust in journalism? Is any particular medium outperforming others in this regard? Any insights on who the biggest winners and losers are when it comes to the public’s perception of trustworthiness?

We have asked a lot of questions about trust in news media over the years. The bottom line is that most U.S. adults have at least some trust in the information they receive from news media, but few U.S. adults have a lot of trust in that information. Eighteen percent of U.S. adults trust information from national news organizations a lot. Seventy-six percent of U.S. adults has some trust in information from national news organizations. To put that in perspective, only 4 percent of web-using U.S. adults have a lot of trust in information they receive from social media. So despite the credibility issues facing traditional media outlets, social media gets even weaker marks than national media when it comes to trust.

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Want to hear more? Join us at the 2017 PRSA Maryland Conference on June 8 where Jesse Holcomb and Katie Paine of Paine Publishing will be teaming up to discuss how the media landscape is changing and how PR professionals must respond with modern approaches to measurement.

*And be sure to read Q&A with Katie Paine: Five questions with PR’s “queen of measurement”