News Content Intangibles: Fact vs. Opinion

Arguably, the notion of fact vs. opinion, has largely become intangible in the U.S. over the course of the past 500 days…hence, the Pew Research Center, along with other researchers have distinguished…

  • Factual statements…are statements which can be proven or disproven using objective evidence, regardless of whether one believes the accuracy or inaccuracy of the statement.
  • Opinion statements…are statements based on the values and/or the beliefs of the source making the statement regardless of whether…
    • the statement can be definitively proven or disproven using objective evidence.
    • one agrees with the statement or not, it is whether one believes the statement.

In today’s increasingly competitive, aggressive, predatorial, and politically polarized news delivery platforms and receiving devices…it seems fair to say much news programming is acquired, produced, and reported at keystroke speeds, which variously influences news consumers to make similarly rapid judgments about how, or if, they will internalize their news as factual or opinion.

With few exceptions that I am aware…much of the news today is presented in closely timed  ‘snippets and/or segments’ with managing editors and producers standing by with stop watches to alert journalists-hosts-anchors to utter the all-to-common and personally frustrating phrase, ‘in the 30 seconds we have left’ repeatedly.  Presenting news in snippets of 2 minutes and 57 seconds, or less, permits little time for introducing relevant and often necessary context, rationale, and an objective perspective which listeners, readers, or watchers may otherwise not seek or even consider.

Given the abundance of news content…delivered through the various platforms that flow continuously, likely contributes to citizen’s brief and periodic ‘dips’ into and out of news cycles at will. This, coupled with the purposeful inclusion of political partisanship, it is suspected that many people’s ability and motivation to sort through and distinguish news as rapidly as it is being dispensed, i.e., opinions vs. fact, is routinely challenging to differentiate outside one’s political inclinations.

A recently released Pew Research Center survey…(cited below), examined basic steps in people’s ‘news consumption – internalization process’.  That is, whether those surveyed were able to recognize – distinguish news as…

  • factual – that is capable of being proven or disproven by objective evidence, or
  • opinion – that reflects the beliefs and values of whomever or whatever is expressing it.

Not surprisingly, the Pew Research findings revealed that…

1…distinguishing statements of fact from statements of opinion present challenges for a significant percentage of news consumers. Interestingly, the main portion of the Pew Research study, i.e., that which measured the public’s ability to distinguish between five factual statements and five opinion statements, found that a majority of Americans correctly identified at least three of the five statements in each set.

2…one’s political party identification, to no particular surprise, plays a role…in how the respondents differentiate factual and opinion (news) statements. For example, members of both political parties conveyed propensities to be influenced by which party a statement appeared to appeal most. Specifically, members of each political party were more likely to label both factual and opinion statements as factual when they were interpreted as appealing to their political leanings.

3…thus, it’s not likely U.S. respondents are completely detached from what is factual and what is opinion.

Interestingly, the findings, as a whole, are only slightly better than if the survey subjects had engaged in random guesses...given few respondents correctly distinguished all five statements.  Approximately a quarter of the respondents got all or most statements wrong, however, certain respondents perform better at parsing through (statement) content than others, i.e., those…

(a.) with high political awareness, (b.) who are very digitally savvy , and (c.) who place high levels of trust in the news media, are better able than others to accurately identify news-related statements as truth and fact, or merely opinion.

For news consumers, trust (itself an intangible) and the personalities of those who report news…really matter in terms of how people interpret – internalize news statements.

I should not hazard a guess here…insofar as percentages of news listeners-viewers who may be inclined – possess the desire to differentiate fact and opinion statements relative to ‘news’ being proved or disproved by applying objective evidence.  For one, its important to recognize these differentiations today, will very likely vary for example, from how “facts” are conveyed during a (political) debate, i.e., as statements of true.  Notably, this Pew Research study was not intended to serve as a knowledge quiz of news content, instead, this study was designed-intended to explore whether the public recognizes distinctions between news that is based upon objective evidence and news that is not!

Insights for this post were gleaned by Michael D. Moberly from Pew Research Center’s June 18, 2018 ‘Distinguishing Between Factual and Opinion Statements in the News’, by Amy Mitchell, Jeffrey Gottfried, Michael Barthel and Nami Sumida.

Michael D. Moberly June 28, 2018 St. Louis [email protected] ‘The Intangible Asset Blog’ where reader attention span, business realities, and solutions converge!

Readers are invited to examine other relevant resources, i.e., books, papers, and blog posts I have published at


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