Friday, November 30, 2007

Life Without Colbert & Stewart

The writers strike is no big deal, except for one thing -- Colbert and Stewart are in reruns.

At first this was okay. They're funny guys, even in reruns, even when you know the punchline, but now we have a presidential campaign heating up and many are left floundering without the insight of these two faux political pundits.

Except not so faux.

These guys carry some weight, some heft. They carry something. Anyway, a lot of people turn to The Daily Show and The Colbert Report for fun and, oddly, to get their news. I've done research on this. The Pew Center has infamously reported how many people say they get their news from such programs. I won't repeat the numbers here, but they are significant ... especially among young viewers.

Who wins? Conservatives and Republicans, I suspect, though Hillary Clinton and John Edwards get their fair share of abuse. Huckabee (my likely GOP vp candidate) is not getting his dose of satiric abuse. Fred Thompson (from my hometown!) would be getting hit too, but he's so asleep at the campaign wheel that it doesn't matter.

Honest. The writers strike matters. It matters because we're missing our daily satire, our faux news. And since there is research that suggests The Daily Show's "coverage" of news is equal of that seen on the nightly broadcast networks, this means something. I don't know exactly what the hell it means, but I suspect what people know about the campaign is affected, if not how much they laugh about it.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Media, Talk, and What People Know

There has been a growing body of scholarly work that examines our interpersonal networks as opposed to media consumption as reasons for what we think, how we act, and what we learn. Some of it I've covered before, such as the fact that our personal networks are more and more made up of people like ourselves. Thus we tend to think our viewpoints are shared by more people, when it turns we are merely getting a reflection of our own views.

Neat stuff. One study looks at young people and the role of talking to friends about politics versus using the media. The results are not surprising. Or maybe they are.

  1. Young people use the media to have something to talk about with friends, but they learn more from these conversations than they do from the media.
  2. Give young people a little information and they often want more, especially if that initial information is engaging (like a debate, so we'll find out if the infamous YouTube debates matter in later research. I'm guessing ... maybe).
  3. Conflicting information baffles young people. This is probably due in part to their lack of base information, so they struggle to deal with competing arguments. The study doesn't address this, but I can see a problem here. What if young people, who struggle with conflicting info, say the hell with it and search out a single source to tell them like it is? The result is a lack of exposure to competing arguments. Not good for them, not good for democracy.
  4. Young people love the Internet. This may have something to do with the findings in #3 above, because the Net is full of conflict, kinda like talk radio on acid.
  5. Over a third of young people report talking about politics on a daily basis. Wow! News organizations need to find a way to tap into this and sell the idea that they can provide young people with info for those conversations. This is an old uses and gratifications approach, for those of a PhDweeb persuasion.
  6. Young people see the mainstream news media as somewhat credible, but less than their friends. Not a good development.

Overall, this study and a host of others are looking at media, personal networks, and young people to help us understand what the opinion climate might look like in a few years. After reading a lot of this stuff, I'd like to say I'm hopeful. I'd like to say we'll be okay.

I''d like to, but I can't.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Media Matter: Evidence from Britain

A new study out of the U.K. suggests that how much you know about public affairs has a direct effect on likelihood to vote, and that the media play an indirect -- but vital -- role in getting people to vote.

What people know "raises voter participation in clearly causal fashion." The usual socio-demographic factors matter too, like education and income. Late in the paper the author tells us "that political salience and the coverage given by mass media play a very important role in increasing voters' knowledge of political matters, in spite of their negligible direct impact on turnout."

This is researchspeak, which means basically that looking for a direct media relationship is not going to work. The media make people more informed, which in turn makes them more likely to actually participate in a democracy.

The effect is there, you just gotta know where to look for it.