Why it’s important to always look past “survey” story headlines
Last Friday, the Toronto Star online ran a story about a new Angus Reid survey titled, “Newspapers among most trusted media, survey finds.” This headline did what it was supposed to do: got my attention. It did so because it suggested a result contrary to the conventional wisdom that newspapers are dying a fast and richly deserved death. However, upon closer inspection, that contrary result is not so clear. Here’s what the Star quoted from the survey:
Among consumers of all ages surveyed, family and friends were the most trusted source of information, at 78 per cent and 68 per cent respectively, followed by radio at 45 per cent, print newspapers at 41 per cent, online news sites at 39 per cent, television at 31 per cent, print magazines at 28 per cent and finally online social networks and blogs, at 13 per cent and 8 per cent respectively, Reid said.
The problem is that the results confuse “sources” like family and friends with “channels” like blogs and social networks. So the survey tells us lots of people trust their family and friends as sources but ignores the fact they use multiple channels – blogs, social networks, face-to-face – to communicate with them. If the surveyors are confusing channels and sources then chances are good respondents are too and that makes the results questionable. The other thing that makes them questionable is the respondents are paid. The article says, “Vision Critical [who Angus Reid works with] has developed hundreds of “panels” of people willing to participate in multiple surveys, for which they are paid $1 to $4 per survey”. Last time I checked “random” samples weren’t drawn exclusively from people paid to answer questions.
Look closely before you quote surveys or, more importantly, base marketing and communications decisions on them.
ps. There was no link to the actual survey in the article.