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How do Washington Insiders consume media?

In March, we hosted more than 50 communications professionals for a review of our 2016 Washington in the Information Age study, with an eye towards discussing what may have changed since the study was first released and what we should pay attention to for the 2017 edition.

The study, which provides a comprehensive look at news and information consumption habits among Washington Insiders, will be fully updated in the fall.

Here are the most interesting questions raised during our conversation with 50+ communications professionals — accompanied by tips from NJ’s researchers.

1. With the current Administration using Twitter to make policy pronouncements–and policymakers sparring on the platform to shape dialogue in real time–will usage continue to rise?

Our 2016 data show that Twitter use is on the rise, and is used by Washington Insiders more than twice as much as the rest of the U.S. population.

For our 2017 survey, we are planning to explore the Twitter phenomenon further. In recent months, we’ve seen companies suddenly caught in the crosshairs of debates on trade or health care policy. In next year’s data, we’ll be looking for whether the risk of being “called out” causes Washington Insiders to retreat from social media.

Tip #1: For the uninitiated worried about being singled out in a critical Tweet, the worst time to join a social network is during a time of crisis. Twitter has enormous value as a listening post, and greater familiarity with Twitter improves your ability to assess threats, respond to critiques, and cultivate allies online.

2. Is Breitbart a trusted source among Washington Insiders?

Of 40 brands studied, Breitbart does not rank as a trusted source. The Administration’s favorites don’t necessarily map to those most relied-upon by the policy community.

The Washington Insiders we studied are avid media consumers, relying on many sources to keep up-to-date on policy and politics — including digital-only outlets, inside-the-beltway publications, cable TV, and even those old standbys, traditional print newspapers.

While Insiders on both sides of the aisle express frustration with the polarized nature of media, will more conservative brands gain prominence and higher readership with Republican control of the White House and Congress? Will the Administration’s embrace of select media brands — such as Breitbart — translate into greater reliance on those brands among Washington Insiders?

National Journal will continue to explore these questions in our 2017 research.

Tip #2: Trust, but verify. Most Washington Insiders trust the media they are consuming, but they go to other sources to verify that information. They use different media outlets and social media to confirm the stories of interest to them.

3. How is the “fake news” phenomenon playing into consumption of news?

Trends we first witnessed in 2015 continued into 2016, with Insiders expressing significant frustration with bias and accuracy in news — worries that have only intensified in the months since our study. Insiders trust mainstream media at nearly twice the rate of the average American, but will we see an erosion of trust?

To distinguish verifiable news stories from other content, will we see Insiders begin to use fact-checking services? To combat partisan coverage, will more Insiders seek out stories with opposing viewpoints and focus on achieving greater balance in the media mix?

The questions from the audience showed enthusiasm for the 2017 research and will help shape this year’s study, which is expected to be released this fall. For information on Washington in the Information Age, please email WIAResearch@nationaljournal.com.

Tip #3: Position yourself for influence. As Washington Insiders attempt to fill a perceived coverage gap, there’s an opportunity for associations to play a greater role as trusted sources of information and expertise on policy issues.

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