Thursday, April 29, 2010

MyFaceTube Politics

Perhaps I blogged about this study before, but it deserves mention again as we see new orgs move more and more to integrating Facebook and other social networking sites into their content.

This study (abstract here, pdf here) is based on a survey of 3,500 young adults (ages 18 to 24) and finds little or no influence by social networking sites on political knowledge (see especially Table 4).  Now this controls for a bunch of other media exposure items, so I'm not terribly surprised there was little variance left for social networking to explain.  Still, it tells us a little something about what social networking does not do.

I also found the factor analysis interesting.  For the uninitiated, a factor analysis lumps together similar responses to a variety of survey questions.  Here, the two social media items fall together nicely and are distinctly separate from other media (see Table 2), from late-night comedy shows to traditional news shows, sites, and publications.  And, separate from mobile media like smart phones.  

Oh yeah, and it's a great study because it cites me.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Hits of the Day

A few tidbits from the Net on what people know (or think they know).
  • "If more Americans knew what was included in the healthcare reform law, more may support it, a U.S. survey indicates." Story here.
  • "Middle-schoolers who are forbidden to watch R-rated movies are less likely to start drinking than peers whose parents are more lenient about such films, new research on 2,406 children shows." Story here.
  • "According to a survey from Drug and Therapeutic Bulletin, many doctors are not very well informed on the subject of herbal medicines, and many don't want to be." Story here
I am the aggregator.

Okay, not a complete aggregator, and I have a system that scours the web for stuff like this, most of which I toss because I either don't understand it or it doesn't fit.  Mostly because I don't understand it.  On the three above, a few words.  The first, about health care (why one word?), this is not surprising.  People react to a phrase or a global term and Obamacare and all its scary alternatives are worse than when you break the law down to its basics.  Then people nod and say, "yeah, that's okay."  On the second, this one is kinda cool.  Who the hell lets a middle-schooler watch an R movie in the first place?  Idiots, who also don't teach their kids about drinking.  The final one I'm torn about, because honestly I don't want my doctor thinking about herbal medicines.  I want the good stuff.  The strong stuff.  Stuff from major pharmaceutical companies that feed the profit engine of the U.S.  Or at least were tested.

All are good examples of either knowledge, perceived knowledge, or a lack of knowledge.  Or in the case of R-rated movies, bad parenting. 

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Twitter = Navel Gazing?

The top story among journalists last week was the economy, followed by the Iceland volcano.

The top story among bloggers last week was the Iceland volcano and the Polish plane crash.

The top story on Twitter last week?  Google.  Followed by Twitter.


So the Twitterverse basically spends most of its time talking either about Google or about itself.  Twitter was also, strangely, concerned about something called an "immortal soul clause" in a game's terms and conditions.  NASA, real actual news, comes in next on Twitter, followed by "online music."  In other words, Twitter is a Twit.

Details here.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Cultivation Theory in Harper's

I was skimming a Harper's magazine today and came across their Harper's Index, which is a list of interesting statistics.  Two that fit here are:
  • Percentage change in 2009 in U.S. in violent crime
    is - 4.4 percent (as in negative 4.4 percent)
  • Chances that an American believes crime went
    up last year, 3 out of 4 people.
In other words, even though violent crime went down, the perception of violent crime went up.

Students of mass comm research will not be surprised by this paradox.  Cultivation Theory posits exactly this, that television "cultivates" our views of the world, and especially violent entertainment content which creates the perception of a "mean and scary world."  My favorite result?  The more you watch TV, even if you live in a neighborhood with almost no crime, the more crime you perceive in your very safe neighborhood.  TV essentially teaches us what the world is really like despite TV having little or no connection with what the world is really like. 

So the theory didn't get mentioned in the article, but that's basically what's going on.

We're seeing some aspect of cultivation among viewers of certain cable news outlets.  But this is a post for another day when I don't have a stack of papers needing to be graded.

How to (Maybe) Get it Wrong

My nearby metro newspaper, the AJC, has wrestled of late with declining circulation and a humbling move out of downtown Atlanta into the burbs.  The paper's top editor is quoted in a story here about how the AJC will try a CNN approach and skate down the middle of the partisan aisle in its coverage.
The Journal-Constitution asked readers what they want -- and made a big change. "What we found is they don't want us to be a newspaper with a strong point of view," says Julia Wallace, the newspaper's editor-in-chief. "But what they do want is, they want balance. If we have a view to the right, they want a balance of a view to the left. And they want us to be transparent about how we go about our work." 
So Julia, how's that working for 4th place CNN?

I'm of two minds here.  The hard news journalism guy in me applauds the approach and wonders what the hell you were doing before this that suddenly you've discovered balance.  But the journalism realist in me sees this approach failing.  Why fail?  Well, the little theorist and methodologist in me knows that what people say when they mean balance is they want a balance teetering toward their own preference.  You often find yourself reminding people that a lack of a conservative bias does not equal a liberal bias, but that's exactly what they'll perceive. People see what they want to see.

Then again, Fox is not fair and balanced, yet the slogan remains.  So maybe the AJC is taking the Fox approach.  Clever and sneaky, far too clever and sneaky to be true, but I could easily be wrong here (not on the success of this plan, but the motivation behind it).

It may very well be that advocacy journalism is the future.  Fact-based news, but told from a definite perspective.  At least for a while, until there is some kind of backlash and playing down the middle maybe makes a comeback in the public mind.  Whether anyone can stay afloat financially until this wonderful day, no one can say.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Good News, Bad News

Here's the good news.  And the bad news.
People are watching more television, reading more news, playing more video games,  spending more time updating their social networking profiles and using more video on demand services than they were six months ago, according to a new survey published today, but their actual spending has plunged as increasingly consumers expect free access.
Consuming more, but willing to pay less.

There's opportunity here, if we can nudge people into paying at least something for real news.  That's a big fat in-all-caps IF.

See a bit about the report here.

Pissed at Government

People are pissed off at the federal government (until, of course, they need help, but that's a different issue).

According to a new Pew Center poll getting attention everywhere, trust in the federal government has reached a low point.  Or, they they put it:
By almost every conceivable measure Americans are less positive and more critical of government these days. A new Pew Research Center survey finds a perfect storm of conditions associated with distrust of government – a dismal economy, an unhappy public, bitter partisan-based backlash, and epic discontent with Congress and elected officials. 
Read the report.  And check out the graphic below:

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Measuring Science Knowledge:
A Controversy? Wow

Here's an interesting post that criticizes a broader measure of what people know about science because it apparently eliminated questions about evolution and Big Bang theory.
NCSE's Joshua Rosenau decried the decision, saying, "Discussing American science literacy without mentioning evolution is intellectual malpractice ... It downplays the controversy." Also reportedly dismayed by the decision was the White House. "The Administration counts on the National Science Board to provide the fairest and most complete reporting of the facts they track," Rick Weiss, a spokesperson and analyst at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, told Science.
No real surprise.  Like it or love it, the Bush administration was never particularly evenhanded when it came to science. 

But . . . it's more complicated than bad guy conservatives trying to hide good science.  As George Bishop, a survey guy of some repute, says in a quote from the posting above, the wording of the questions often are better measures of belief than knowledge.

A pdf of the missing section is here.  I will explore the report in more detail tomorrow, because it's fascinating stuff in comparing what Americans know versus others about science.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The News ... Tomorrow

The lede:
America's news executives are hesitant about many of the alternative funding ideas being discussed for journalism today and are overwhelmingly skeptical about the prospect of government financing, according to a new survey by the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism in association with the American Society of News Editors (ASNE) and the Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA).
Read more here in a report by the Pew Center or the full, longer report here.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

It's fun to dip into other fields to see how they approach similar theoretical questions.  In this study, people are examined as political consumers who boycott or buycott.  Fascinating stuff.

Its measure of "political cognition" includes two dimensions: "political knowledge" and "political interest."  Below are the three political knowledge items.
  • As far as you know, does the federal government spend more on social security or on foreign aid?
  • Would you say that one of the parties is more conservative than the other on the national level?
  • How much of a majority is required for the US Senate and House to override a presidential veto?
The political interest item is a single question, pretty basic, so let's focus on above.  Is this enough?  Dunno.  As far as I can tell, no Cronbach's Alpha is reported for the three items, so we don't know how well they hold together.  And I'm nitpicking here on a study that's actually quite interesting, tying together a typology of political consumers with key variables -- but, curiously, no media factors are included.

Monday, April 12, 2010

ANES and Evaluations of Government

The ANES is seeking possible questions for its 2010-2012 Evaluations of Government and Society Study (details here).  These will be Internet-based surveys of a random sample of U.S. adults that focus on -- obviously -- how people evaluate government.  What better time, given the Tea Party environment, the growing Republican power, the overall disenchantment with government that we seem to be seeing?

According to the call for questions:
Specifically, we have in mind here attitudes about the performance of the Obama administration on the major issues of the day, evaluations of Congress and the Supreme Court, identification with and attitudes about the major political parties, and levels of interest in and engagement with national politics. This is primarily because these perceptions are unmistakably correlated with both presidential vote choice and levels of political participation. We intend to measure each of these topics at multiple points throughout the two-year period preceding the 2012 elections. However in addition to these subjects, we envision that each of these surveys would explore a particular aspect of these political perceptions.
We're talking five rolling cross-sectional waves with lots of potential to theoretically get at what's going on out there beyond the mere snapshot surveys presently available.

Of course, being the mass comm guy I am, I wonder what media questions should be included.  ANES tends to undervalue the media.  Sure, there are the basic exposure and attention items to broad-based media (TV news, newspapers, etc.), but rarely does it burrow down to the now vital network or program level.  If Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh are truly fueling an anti-government sentiment, then we need to get at exposure and response to those specific hosts, those programs, and even more broadly -- watching Fox News.
I asked what media items might be included and the answer was ... none, yet, so propose some.  So that's what I hope to do, but it's a little more difficult to generate a theoretical perspective versus a normative one, and ANES loves theory in its proposals.  So I'm gonna give this some thought because it would be nearly criminal to attempt a major undertaking to understand anti-government evaluations without taking these media folks, and their audience, into consideration. 

Suggestions welcome.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Bias vs. Bucks

More than half of Americans believe media bias is the biggest problem in politics today.

And yet Fox News remains so very popular.  Go figure.

A Politico story reports on the survey of about 1,000 U.S. adults.  It finds 55 percent see media bias as the biggest issue while 32 percent blamed money.  Thirteen percent either didn't care or found the false dichotomy so off-putting they refused to answer any more stupid survey questions.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Hell Freezes Over

Hijacking the blog. 

My department (Journalism) voted Tuesday to get rid of its three majors (newspapers, magazines, and publication management) and consolidate them into a single major called ... journalism.  This simple, seemingly logical move took years and cost thousands of lives.

But don't worry, academe fans.  While we have one major, we now have sequences coincidentally called -- wait for it -- magazines, publication management, public affairs (newspapers) and visual journalism (which we always had, the sequence formerly known as photojournalism).

In academe, even when hell freezes over, curiously nothing changes.

I have absolutely no way to connect this to the traditional theme of the blog.  Then again, I don't have to. It's my blog.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Priming and Levels of Political Knowledge
Beware the Moderates

We often study -- or expect to find -- nice and neat linear relationships among our variables, but it's often more complex than that.  A recent Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly article proves this point by noting theoretical explanations that argue those moderate in political knowledge act very differently than those with high or low political knowledge.

In this study they were looking at priming.  What's that?  It's how some message or factor influences how we process or remember subsequent messages.  Think of the times you've gone to a movie theatre and watched a scary film.  Come out more cautious?  Looking deeply at shadows you normally ignored?  That's priming.  It fades after a time.

According to theory, moderate levels of political knowledge should result in greater priming effects by political messages.  What theory?  Let's not get into that today, because I feel lousy and don't want to spend all this time typing, so take my word for it.

The JMCQ piece found exactly this, that "individuals with minimal knowledge are more likely to reject media primes, as are those extremely knowledgeable -- albeit for entirely different reasons."

That's damned important, that caveat.  Yeah, low and high knowledge folks act the same way in response, but for very different reasons.  High knowledge folks tend to be more experienced with politics, with news, to be more critical because they've been the subject of stories or coverage or know people who have.  Low knowledge people are more critical because of a lack of trust in institutions but mostly because they have little direct experience with media.  Thus the moderates, they're the ones most open to media primes.

There's an ultimate message here, but I'm struggling to decide exactly what it may be -- other than moderates (I consider myself politically a radical moderate who hates everyone equally) are not to be trusted.