Saturday, March 12, 2011

Expectations and Satisfaction with the News

Do people expect more from print versus television news?

Let's be clear, the majority of those surveyed say they turn to TV for news more than any other medium (though we're seeing a shift from TV to the Net).  So if people prefer TV news, shouldn't they expect more from it?  Or do they expect more from print because, well, their expectations of quality are different than their preferences?

I raise these questions not because I can point to a study that will answer them, but only to show the kinds of silly ideas that get stuck in my head in the middle of the night.

My gut feeling, without scouring Pew and other sources of such data, is that a news medium differs in the mind of most people on a number of dimensions. There is preference (TV is easy, entertaining, colorful, engaging, and of course suffers from delusions of adequacy).  But I suspect there are dimensions beyond preference.  We may prefer Dancing with the Stars, but we know other shows are better for us.  Indeed, respondents may say TV is better, but I wonder whether they also have higher expectations for print news -- in terms of fairness, or comprehensiveness, or simple good judgment and ethical behavior.

Here's an experiment.  Take a TV news story, create an identical (as close as you can) print version, randomly assign folks to watch one or read the other.  Make sure the story is something of an ethical lapse, mild at best, on the part of the newscast.  Maybe it's sensationalistic.  Give the stories to study subjects and see what they think.  I'm guessing, without any good theoretical rationale, that the disappointment will be greater for the print product than for the TV product.  This may be the print guy in me talking. 

Here's where it all falls apart.  If a person has a "relationship" with a TV personality they are more likely to forgive or argue away any lapses on the part of that person (think Olbermann, think Beck).  You have to control for that or just set it aside.  The real question is this: are there unconscious higher expectations for a print version of a story compared to a TV version of a story?  I'm willing to bet there are, but hell if I know exactly how to test it since creating a comparative version in both media is really difficult.  

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