Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Learning from Faux News

How people learn from comedy or faux news programs has been a research topic of mine for quite some time, a rich vein now being mined by a whole new group of people smarter and faster than I am.  It's also an area that draws interesting comment, such as this piece out of New Zealand.  A lot of this, while fascinating, is not on point to my discussion here, so let me help you find the pertinent section by repeating some of it:
Audience effects: While there is some quantitative evidence that the politically uninterested can indeed obtain useful political knowledge as a by-product of watching infotainment shows, the measures of political learning used (for example, self-reported learning, name recognition rather than recall, and issue attention) are weak indicators of political knowledge, and any modest gains tend to be offset by countervailing negatives (Baum 2007; Baumgartner and Morris 2006; Cooper and Bailey 2008). 
Other than failing to cite the work of Hollander (yes, a significant flaw), this makes the traditional point that recall and attention are often lousy measures of what people know.  I won't repeat my many postings on the topic.  But this is the best measure we tend to have, the most workable surrogate, of something as complex as political knowledge.

Just after this:
Even optimists concede that the quality and diversity of information filtered through 'the relatively narrow lens of the entertainment-oriented soft news media' might not lead to better citizens, or better policies (Baum 2002, p. 106; 2007, p. 115). 
Obviously this goes beyond mere knowledge to the consequences of that knowledge, and it has that softening "might not" that is integral not only to academicspeak, but is also accurate.

Then he quickly shifts to the persuasive power, or lack thereof, of these programs.  All good points.  It's an interesting piece, certainly worth a read if you're interested in how comedy shows and The Daily Show in particular, may influence an audience.

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