What Would the News Be Without Surveys?

NewspaperWhat would happen if you took all the survey results out of your local newspaper?  How much news would be left?

As a researcher, I like to think that I take notice when news outlets use survey results as part of their reporting.

The news is, of course, chock full of survey results on a daily basis, including everything from political, government and business survey results to fun polls about cultural phenomena.

Why do news outlets use survey results so much in their reporting?  I think there are a number of reasons:

  • Survey results can lend a sense of authority and certainty to news articles.
  • Interview subjects often cite survey results to make a point, particularly when they are advocating a point of view.
  • Readers like survey results because they are (usually) interesting and easily digestible.
  • It is easier to write about survey results than issues about which there is no concrete or objective data.

I decided to take a look at the Sunday edition my local newspaper, the Portland Press Herald in Portland, Maine, and count the number of survey references.  I looked at the issue from Sunday, March 25th.

Here are the five survey references I found.  Frankly, I think this is fewer than normal even though the Press Herald is a small newspaper.  I’ll be interested to see how next Sunday compares.

Front Section

  • “But the manufacturing sector has been shedding jobs in Maine for decades, shrinking by 28,000 employees between 2000 and 2010, according to the Maine Department of Labor.”  From “Assessing Energy Costs’ Effect on the Economy,” by Tux Turkel.
  • “Ultimately, as many as 600 people may have been sickened by the outbreak, since the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that only one in 30 cases in a salmonella outbreak are reported.”  From “Here’s What We Know – and What We’ll Never Know,” by Leslie Bridgers.

Sports Section

  • Coach of the Year:  Norm Gagne, Scarborough.  From “Boys’ Hockey All-Star, Western Maine Class A”

Local Section


  • “Leader McConnell, 31% of your fellow Republicans believe that the President is a Muslim.”  From Doonesbury, Garry Trudeau.

Take a crack at this same exercise your local newspaper (or your favorite news website), and let me know how many survey citations or references you find.


About Dana Stanley

Dana is the Editor-in-Chief of Research Access.

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