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Sept. 11, 2017, 10 a.m.
LINK:  ➚   |   Posted by: Ricardo Bilton   |   September 11, 2017

News organizations often tend to see their “readers” as one monolithic group whose members have similar needs and respond to the same kinds of stories.

But a new report from the Pew Research Center shows that the reality is more complex. Creating what he calls a “information-engagement typology,” researcher John Horrigan identified five distinct groups of people based on their interest and engagement with new information: The Eager and Willing represent 22 percent of the U.S. adult population and have the highest levels of trust in information sources as well as the most interest in improving their own digital literacy. The Confident (16 percent of adults) in contrast are just as have just as much trust in information sources, but don’t feel a strong desire to improve their digital skills.

Slightly more ambivalent about information are what Pew calls The Cautious and Curious (13 percent), a group that have high interest in news, but low trust in many sources. (This group, as Pew points out, most closely mirrors the demographic traits of the general population.)

And then there are The Doubtful and The Wary, two groups marked by both distrust of information sources and low level of interest in improving their digital skills. Combined, these two latter groups make up nearly half of the U.S. adult population, which should represent both a significant challenge and opportunity to news organizations.

Pew says the the takeaway here is straightforward: There’s no one-size-fits all approach to information outreach.

For instance, information purveyors might need to use very different methods to get material to the Eager and Willing, who are relatively trusting of institutional information and eager to learn, compared with the tactics they might consider in trying to get the attention of the Cautious and Curious, who are open to learning but relatively distrusting of institutional information. Similarly, groups with messages might want to plan wholly different processes to reach the Confident (who are basically information omnivores), compared with the Wary (who are quite reluctant to engage with new material).

It’s worth asking how much Pew’s findings connect with the idea of the “unnewsed,” which Nieman Lab director Joshua Benton wrote about earlier this year. As local media organizations disappear, and as larger news organizations go upmarket to focus on younger and more wealthy readers (who are highly likely to read a lot of news and pay for it), many potential news consumers are being left behind. It’s likely that these left behind readers are some of the same “cautious and curious” or “doubtful” or “wary” people that Pew identified in its report.

The report did, however, have some good news for libraries, which enjoy a significant amount of trust among the people that Pew surveyed: 40 percent of people said they trusted their local library and librarians “a lot,” higher than than those who said the same for health care providers (39 percent) and far higher than those who said the same for local and national news organizations (18 and 17 percent, respectively).

But those trust numbers vary wildly across the five types the study identifies. Check out the numbers for local and national news organizations

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