Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Political Efficacy and Journalism

I have of late read a lot about how readers and viewers of the news will either seek out confirming information or, through motivated reasoning, see what they want to see and hear what they want to hear in a news story to fit their political predispositions.  The evidence is compelling, especially when you consider how people cling to misperceptions (Obama is a Muslim, etc.), but even corrections by the media of an incorrect fact leads some -- due to partisanship -- to move even further in their misperception.  People believe, it seems, what they prefer to believe.
And now along comes this study in the February 2011 Journal of Communication that sorta kinds follows along the same lines.

The study looks at neutral reporting of contradictory factual claims, the basic stuff of everyday journalism, and finds experimentally that exposure to such content influences what they call epistemic political efficacy, defined here as "confidence in one's own ability to determine the truth about factual political disputes."  Very interesting concept, one I wish I'd invented, particularly in these times of "death panels" and other invented political factoids.  They also consider adjudication, the notion of coming in a news story to some kind of conclusion about the truth or falsity of a disputed fact.

As the article states:
...the two experiments conducted thus far are consistent in finding that at least for readers who are high in prior interest in an issue, encountering even a single news story about that issue that contains adjudication significantly increases their epistemic political efficacy. This suggests that journalistic adjudication may be a point of leverage for increasing the quantity and quality of citizen engagement: goals that may seem unattainable when one assumes that their only important antecedents are motivational constructs such as political interest.

Some interesting ideas here that deserve more time than I can afford to give them, at least at the moment.  If I'm lucky I may revisit this study on another day and delve into the whole concept of EPE and how it relates to more traditional approaches to political efficacy.  But I do think they're on to something in these hyper-partisan times.

1 comment:

Russ D said...

In the era of New Media (which I have taken to mean blogs and other Internet sources, in addition to talk radio and cable/broadcast news), opinion is very often presented in identically the same context as fact. You don't see a label indicating "commentary" under the various talking heads on television. And, of course, talk radio blurs the line even further. So, how does one differentiate fact from fiction? I don't think you can. So, the logical outcome is to pick something you like and believe it.