Irony alert: Pew misleads about poll results

Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

This is just goofy. Pew Research published the results of a poll it conducted asking Americans how they'd feel if their local newspaper went under. Pew's finding caused some buzz online because it seemed not many readers would care if they lost their daily.

At least that's the spin Pew put on it [emphasis added]:

As many newspapers struggle to stay economically viable, fewer than half of Americans (43%) say that losing their local newspaper would hurt civic life in their community "a lot." Even fewer (33%) say they would personally miss reading the local newspaper a lot if it were no longer available.

The key phrase is "a lot," because Pew also asked respondents if they'd miss their newspaper "some," as well as "not much" and "not at all." Clearly there were people who said they'd miss their newspaper, and people who said they would not. Then within each group there were two choices in terms of emphasis.

So why in its write-up did Pew only hype the number of people who said they'd miss their newspaper "a lot"? Pew suggested only 33 percent of Americans would miss their newspaper ("a lot") if it folded. But if you add in the people who said they'd miss it "some," that total number jumps up to 58 percent.

Same with the questions about civic life being hurt without a local newspaper. Add in the "some" category and that total balloons from 43 percent to 74 percent.

Seems to me the Pew conclusion could have just as easily, and just as accurately, read:

As many newspapers struggle to stay economically viable, a strong majority of Americans (74%) say that losing their local newspaper would hurt civic life in their community. And a majority (55%) say they would personally miss reading the local newspaper if it were no longer available.

UPDATE: This was the headline to the Pew study:

Stop the Presses? Many Americans Wouldn't Care a Lot if Local Papers Folded

That just doesn't make any sense. According to Pew's own numbers, 74 percent of Americans would care if their local newspaper folded. So why emphasize the minority?

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