In Pew Research survey, most Americans tell journalists: Just the facts, please

Majority of U.S. adults think news media should not add interpretation to their reporting of news events


Among many journalists it’s an article of faith that reporting must include interpretation and context to be anything more than stenography.

That’s not how most Americans see it, according to a new survey from the Pew Research Center.

Fully 59% of U.S. adults surveyed say that the news media should not add interpretation, but present the facts alone. About 40% favor adding some interpretation to reporting. The survey of 4,132 adults was conducted Sept. 27 to Oct. 10, before Election Day.

“Although the public prefers the news media to present ‘just the facts,’ they may not even agree on what the facts are,” wrote Pew journalism researchers Michael Barthel and Jeffrey Gottfried. “In the same survey, 81% of registered voters said that most supporters of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump not only disagree over plans and policies, but also disagree on basic facts.”

And there are partisan differences over including interpretation in reporting. Trump supporters who were surveyed favored a “just the facts” approach by more than two-to-one, with only 29% saying the news media should add interpretation.

Perhaps one reason why: Among registered voters who said they were going to vote for Trump, 46% thought coverage of their candidate had been too tough.

It’s not like Clinton supporters took a radically different view: They split 50/50 on the issue. And on the “too-tough” coverage issue, just approximately 30% thought that was the case on Clinton.

If there’s some good news for journalists in this survey, it’s that a huge majority of the public approves of fact-checking—even among those who oppose interpretation of facts in reporting.

Fully 81% of U.S. adults who prefer facts without interpretation believe fact-checking is a major or minor responsibility of the news media. About the same share of those who prefer interpretation, 83%, think fact-checking is a responsibility of the news media.