Don’t Know Much…But I Know I Love News
Despite ubiquitious media, Americans are no more informed than they were 20 years ago.
Despite modern-day technological developments in news media, Americans are no more informed about news and the world around them than they were 20 years ago.
A study conducted by the Pew Research Center found that despite ubiquitous Internet news headlines and 24 hour cable channels, there has been little effect on the level of knowledge Americans demonstrate regarding domestic and international affairs.
On average, Americans are as competent at naming their leaders and discussing major news events as they were in 1989. While there are small variations, such as less people identifying the current vice president (Dick Cheney, 69%) than in 1989 (Dan Quayle, 74%), more Americans today are aware of other political information, such as the fact that the Democrats control Congress and that the chief justice of the Supreme Court is a conservative.
Demographic factors play a role in how much people know about the world around them. According to the study, level of education is the “single greatest predictor of knowledge.”
Each additional year of formal education accounted for higher levels of knowledge. On average, men knew more than women, white knew more than blacks, the affluent knew more than the poor. Older Americans (those over 50) knew more than their younger counterparts. Republicans and Democrats were equally represented in the high-knowledge group.
Interestingly, those participants in the high-knowledge group, which was able to identify politicians and hard news events, were also more likely to identify pop culture figures, such as Beyoncé Knowles, and athletes, like Peyton Manning. This finding indicates that those who stay well-informed tend to possess a wider scope of knowledge than those who do not.
Americans who are the most knowledgeable tend to be the most likely to be registered to vote (90%) compared to those who are less knowledgeable, of whom only about half (53%) are registered. Americans who are the most informed tend to view political issues as personally relevant, more so than those who are less informed (73% vs. 59% respectively).
Another way to analyze and discuss the American knowledge base is through a familiar system of grading. According to Pew researchers, who created and administered a short quiz aimed at measuring general overall knowledge, here are the results of a general knowledge quiz comprised of questions based featured in the knowledge poll:
“Using a common school grading scale in which 90% correct is the minimum necessary to receive an A, 80% for a B, 70% for a C, 60% for a D and less than 60% is a failing grade, Americans did not fare too well. Fully half would have failed, while only about one-in-six would have earned an A or B. While such a scale is useful in the classroom, it may be a poor way to judge whether people are sufficiently informed. Opinions vary about what people ‘should’ know about news events, and a different mix of questions could easily have produced very different results.”
While it may seem inconsistent to have so many people fare poorly on the general knowledge quiz, given the plethora of information available to the public in multiple forms, the study author’s above comments are key to understanding this seemingly-odd phenomenon: “Opinions vary about what people ‘should’ know…”
The information revolution has presented Americans with more access to news and events than ever before. It has also given people more control over what they choose to read, see, and hear. Seattle Times columnist Linda Knapp, describes how easy it is to personalize one’s news experience in her March 3, 2007 piece entitled “Selecting all the news that I can handle.” (http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/gettingstarted/2003598502_ptgett03.html)
After registering at www.simplyheadlines.com, Knapp was able to pick and choose which areas of interest of which she would like to keep informed. Describing her free registration process on the website, she explains, “I select the kinds of news stories I want from a list that includes Top News, Sports, Tech & Gadgets, Business, World News, Entertainment, Travel Politics, U.S. National News, Life Style, and Blogs. If I want, I can add special features, such as Stock Quotes, Sudoku, Local Weather and This Day in History, among other options.”
Knapp also describes how accessible the service is, as Simply Headlines delivers personalized news to the customer’s e-mailbox, Treo, Blackberry, or other mobile device.
This individualized news experience has become typical of our media advancement, but also results in more filtering of available information. Personalizing one’s news has come a long way from changing the channel when an irrelevant news story airs, then flipping back in the hopes of catching something interesting. Doing so keeps many most informed about the topics most relevant to their interests and lives, yet narrows the field of information to which they are exposed.
"The breadth of topics covered on demodirt.com is always timely and the depth is always outstanding."
--Leslie G. Ungar, professional speaker, executive coach, and strategist at Electric Impulse Communications