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.
Setting aside statistical significance, below I give you top three in the dimensions:
1. Wall Street Journal
2. Time Magazine
1. Time Magazine
2. Local newspaper
3. USA Today
2. ABC News
3. Local newspaper
1. Time Magazine
2. New York Times and USA Today (tie)
1. Fox News
2. Wall Street Journalj
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.