Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Brits vs. the Finns

A study published in Journalism (abstract here, a full pdf of the study here) argues that Finns are better informed than Brits because the Finnish news media focuses more on hard news, at least compared to the British news media. 

It's an interesting piece of work -- online survey of a thousand folks in two countries, but what's really interesting is the detail they go into to measure political knowledge.  Here's a bit of the methodology below:
Questions were asked in relation to hard and soft news areas reported by the media of the two countries during the period of our content analysis. In particular, 14 common questions were asked in relation to international news, two common questions in relation to domestic crime, and 14 separate questions about the domestic news of each country. We balanced easy and difficult questions, with the degree of ‘easiness’ being established on the basis of the number of reports registered in the Lexis-nexis and Finnish equivalent data sets in a sub sample of newspapers during one month and six months prior to the survey. Questions designed to measure recognition of specific individuals were administered in two different versions. Using random assignment, one half of the national samples was presented with the individual’s name, and the other half with a photograph of the target person. In 28 instances, respondents were presented with five possible answers to multiple choice questions, one of which was correct. A time limit was imposed, through computer software, to prevent respondents from looking up the right answer.
That's a helluva lot of detail, and an interesting way to go about tapping what people know.  Impressive, especially the random rotation of kinds of questions, either presenting respondents with a name of a public figure,k or a photograph.  Fascinating stuff.  And being an online survey, I really like how they used software to time the study so people didn't have an opportunity to quickly look up the answer.  Very clever.

Finns did better than Brits on domestic questions, whether hard news or soft news.  But this is neat.  On international news, Finns and Brits were pretty close on the hard news questions and the Brits outscored the Finns on soft news questions.

There's a lot more to this study.  For example, media exposure predicted hard and soft news knowledge about domestic affairs, but only hard news knowledge about international affairs.  In other words, media consumption was unrelated to what people knew about international stories of a soft news orientation.  Interesting.  In conclusion the authors point to differences in the media systems (Britain classified as liberal, Finland as democratic corporatist.) as a good reason for their results.

For those who love comparative studies, there is this conclusion:
The implication of this study is that media systems sustained by public service regulation and a professional culture brief their electorates better, and sustain a higher level of public affairs knowledge, than media systems more strongly influenced by market values.  In this sense, they better serve the public good.

Oh, and one major flaw.  It doesn't cite me.  Not that it needed to, but I always consider that a major flaw and, curiously, years ago I did an analysis of six nations and political knowledge, so they could've dug up that old Gazette study.  Ah well.

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