Monday, July 26, 2010

Facebook and False Consensus

To save time, energy, and to keep cool in this blistering heat, instead of doing something original I'll just point to a column I wrote and that was published yesterday in my local daily newspaper.  The title above says it all.  Enjoy.

Monday, July 19, 2010

News Quiz

The fine folks at the Pew Center have a new News IQ test available, if you feel lucky.  I got all 11 questions correct, scoring me higher than 95 percent of those who took the test.  Fear me.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Knowledge Structures II

A few days ago I wrote about a new study that examines the differences between actual knowledge and knowledge structures. I discussed those two concepts in the previous blog, but I do want to comment on an odd way of measuring news use.   Most of us would probably fall back on mere exposure as a way to measure "use" of the media, but the author instead uses two questions that deserve special attention.  To tap the concept news use, she does the following, quoted directly from the study:
Use of political news. Attention was measured on two items that assessed whether participants had ‘‘paid a lot of attention to news coverage’’ and whether people ‘‘felt informed’’ about political news in this election. The items were related (r=.66).

So on the one hand we have attention, which is fine.  There is a good body of work that examines the differences, conceptually and methodologically, between exposure and attention.  But then she adds an item that asks whether people "'felt informed' about political news in this election."

Can I have a huh from the audience?

I assume she miswrote -- feeling informed about political news rather than by political news, otherwise this doesn't make a lot of sense.  And we're mixing theoretical apples and oranges, combining attention to the media with what might essentially be political self-efficacy or, in political science terms, internal efficacy.  It's hard to say, but despite the high correlation between the two questions, I'm not particularly happy with lumping them together and would not have allowed it had I been a reviewer of this manuscript for Communication Research Reports, or I would at least have required a more vigorous defense.

Okay, enough with the nerdy methodological nonsense, what did she find?  Glad you asked.

Treating knowledge structure depth as the dependent variable (basically, how many different things respondents can name), we find attention to the news and reflective integration (a scale that measures how much you think about the news) to be positive predictors.  Factual knowledge was not a predictor of this structure variable, which is kinda odd and makes me wonder about the quality of the depth listings.  Mere venting?  Or is what people know versus what people say quite different?  Or is this simply a function of using college students as respondents because, as we all know, teenagers and college students -- while related to humans -- have not evolved to humanity yet.  In other words, they're not real people.  Yet.

Also a positive predictor is conservatism.  This also is odd, because ideology, once you control for education and the like, typically does not predict political knowledge.  Given these were college students, a fairly homogeneous sample, I'm not sure what to make of this one, or of the whole study.  There's a lot to like here, but also a lot to question in terms of guidance for other scholars.

Full study cite:  Rebecca M. L. Curnalia (2010), "Predictors of the development of applied knowledge structures for presidential candidates."  Communication Research Reports, 27, 80-89.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Knowledge Structures vs. Actual Knowledge

There is a fascinating study that argues, in part, that important theoretical differences and consequences exist between knowledge structures and actual knowledge.  Best of all, the authors cite my work on recall versus recognition.

What's a knowledge structure?  The authors argue that it is distinct from actual knowledge, yet related (much like I argued for recall and recognition).  Basically, you ask someone to list as many things as they can about a topic (say, Barack Obama).  The number of relevant responses are part of the knowledge structure.  Factual, or actual, knowledge is a more standard item, a set of questions settled on a priori and then asked of respondents.  The differences here are not new.  V.O. Key and Doris Graber long ago explored the important theoretical and methodological differences between what people know versus what social scientists ask them about what they know.  "The voters are not fools," Key famously said. 

The study also probes something called reflective integration as well as news consumption to explore all the relationships.  Tomorrow, I get at the results and their consequences -- methodologically, theoretically, and even for the real world question of what people know and how they use that information.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

In terms of what people know, I agree this one hardly ranks up there in importance, but many of us knew of the engagement before famous mom/grandmother/politico Sarah Palin did -- if we believe news accounts today.  Then again, many of us know a lot of stuff Sarah Palin doesn't know...

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The 99 Percent New Media Solution

Ninety-nine percent of all news stories linked to in blogs come from the Evil MSM (mainstream media), according to a Pew Center study.  "The BBC (23% of all blog links), CNN (21%), the New York Times (20%) and the Washington Post (16%) combined accounted for fully 80% of all news stories linked to on blogs. Web-only sites, on the other hand, made up less than 1% of the links in the blogosphere."  A more in-depth version of the study is here, with lots of info about blogs, social media topics, and the like.  Worth the read.

The point?  Net-only blogs and news sources have yet to generate the kind of reporting necessary to achieve some significance, some critical mass.  They do well on commentary -- reactive rather than proactive -- just not so much on original coverage (though a few specialized sites such as Politico are getting there).

Monday, July 12, 2010

Fewer Dying Mags

Lots of people still rely on magazines.  You know mags -- those paper things that show up in the mail once a week or once a month, those paper things you see on the racks at bookstores (where they also sell paper things called books).  There's good news on the magazine front, according to this story from AdWeek:
NEW YORK ( -- Magazines aren't closing like they used to, but new ones aren't coming along as quickly any more either. 
The math looks good.  Publishers shut down 279 mags in the first half of last year.  This year publishers axed only 87 magazines.  Now a skeptic might say there were fewer mags left, so of course the number is smaller, but there are literally tens of thousands of magazines, most of which we never see.
Even while print closures ebb, a more modest pace for new launches suggests that a thinner competitive set will persist for many magazine categories. Ninety new magazines arrived in the first half of this year, down from 187 launches in the first half of 2009, MediaFinder said. 

Sunday, July 11, 2010

If News Orgs had Personalities ...

If news media outlets had a personality, what would it be?  I see Fox News as a grumpy guy who doesn't take any crap, CNN as a buttoned-down type who tries so very hard, and MSNBC as that loon of an uncle -- you know, the smart guy who's just also a wee bit eccentric.

Someone actually studied how people perceive the personality dimensions of various news organizations.  Why?  I dunno, but it's in the latest Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, an academic journal read by tens of people worldwide.  And, in full disclosure, the folks who did the research are either at, or connected to, my university and college.

So the authors compiled a long list of personality attributes based on previous research and then threw this list at respondents who rated a long list of major news organizations: the major TV networks, the cable news listed above, the major national newspapers (NYTimes, WSJournal, USAToday), the three major news mags (Time, etc.), and that popular TV network watched by about as many people who read academic journals -- PBS.

Yeah, yeah, so how'd it all turn out?

The authors conducted a factor analysis to reveal certain personality dimensions always pop up for news organizations.  These won't surprise anyone.  They're trustworthiness, dynamism, sincerity, sophistication, and toughness.  How this works is simple, the respondents were slapped upside the head with a long list of traits (experienced, reliable, serious, edgy, flashy, friendly, sincere, rugged, etc.).  It's a long list.  The factor analysis pools how people answered these and finds the underlying dimensions, which I listed in boldface above.  Fairly routine social science stuff.

The results?

Setting aside statistical significance, below I give you top three in the dimensions:


1. Wall Street Journal
2. Time Magazine
3. CNN


1. Time Magazine
2. Local newspaper
3. USA Today


1. PBS
2. ABC News
3. Local newspaper


1. Time Magazine
2. New York Times and USA Today (tie)


1. Fox News
2. Wall Street Journalj
3. CNN

Now keep in mind I'm fudging these because some of the differences are not statistically significant, so #3 on a list is probably a tie with #2 and the four or five below it. 

There are some interesting findings.  Look at toughness, for example.  About the only place Fox News pops up high is in this category, no doubt thanks to Papa Bear Bill O'Reilly, Sean (I can say Specificity more often than you) Hannity, and of course Glenn Beck, who with his bestselling "novel" is now Mr. Media.  Fox guys are tough.  Rugged.  Without mercy, unless of course you happen to be a Republican politician.

Now the brief section on why none of this matters.  First, the coefficients are so close to one another as to raise questions about whether real differences exist among most of the media personalities.  Second, the study is of college student respondents and as we all know, while teenagers and college students in many ways resemble humans, they're not quite there.  I find it hard to buy into an intensive study of 444 students presumably from my own college.  Hell, they may have even been from my own class.  In any case, I suspect real human beings would have had very different results.  Still, the results are an interesting first step.

Full cite: Jooyoung Kim, Tae Hyun Baek, and Hugh J. Martin (2010).  Dimensions of news media brand personality.  Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, 87 (No. 1, Spring), 117-134.

Monday, July 5, 2010


I've been traveling, but while on the road I picked up this little poll result for the July 4 weekend -- 26 percent of Americans could not identify the country from which the U.S. gained independence.  About 20 percent simply said they didn't know, while about 6 percent offered an incorrect answer including my favorite -- Japan. 

Thursday, July 1, 2010

What People Know ... about Torture

Is waterboarding torture? 

Yes, at least yes for a jillion years, as this writer points out.  It's part of a report on how journalism, which had called waterboarding torture from the dawn of time until, oh, about 2004, suddenly stopped describing it as such.  He calls journalists cowardly for suddenly not calling it torture, a technique used by evil dictators throughout history.  The full report, in annoying pdf format, is here

Do people think it's torture?  Back in 2009, 60 percent of Americans in a poll described it as torture.  A little over a third said it was not torture.  Three percent, having never undergone the treatment, were unsure.  In another poll the same year, 71 percent described it as torture.

Yeah, it's torture.  Of course it is -- except, perhaps for some, when we're doing it.  Then it's not so much torture as an enhanced interrogation technique, which is a nice way of saying ... torture.