Study: How Much Does News Media Influence Public Opinion & Dialogue

Earlier this month Harvard University concluded a 5 year long study which happens to be remarkably applicable to someone in my situation; the owner of a small news website. The goal of the study itself was quite simple, to uncover the true extent to which American websites and news services impact public discourse, dialogue and opinions every time a story is written.

The study, officially entitled “How the news media activate public expression and influence national agendas,” hoped to measure the impact of news media on American society in order to “understand the causal effect of news stories on increasing public discussion of a specific topic.” To do this, Gary King, Benjamin Schneer and Ariel White followed 48 different American news organizations on a day to day and week to week basis over a period of 5 years. To understand the impact or reach these organizations, researchers measured how many times a particular subject was mentioned on social media in the days after a news organizations first wrote about it, as well as how many page views each individual article on a subject received.

According to the results of their study, published in the November 2017 issue of Science Magazine, “We demonstrate that exposure to the news media causes Americans to take public stands on specific issues, join national policy conversations, and express themselves publicly—all key components of democratic politics—more often than they would otherwise.” Additionally, researchers uncovered that “Social media posts increased by almost 20% the first day after the publication of news stories on a wide range of topics.

Breaking down these statistics a little more closely, regardless if a news organization wrote about human rights, a political event or almost anything else of substance, Twitter postings/discussion about that particular subject increased by “62.7%” on that day and “20%” over the days to follow, simply by having these news organizations write about it. Additionally, researchers estimated that a single politically motivated news article could influence public polling data on that subject, topic or person by as much as “2.3%.”

View Complete Study Here: http://science.sciencemag.org/content/358/6364/776.full

Putting the results of this study into somewhat of a better context, Legacy Medi4 has over 20,000 followers on Facebook and I have received between 5,000 to 6,000 unique views on my website over the course of the last 12 months. Also, having written about many, if not most of the subjects chronicled by this study, I can say with absolute certainty that my articles do not boost dialogue, comments or postings on social media anywhere close to the 20-60% figure quoted by the research. I bring this up because the leaders of this study claim to have only studied “small news outlets,” while excluding publishers regularly associated with “the main stream media.” However, given their results, I have to seriously question what Harvard’s definition of a small news outlet actually constitutes?

For example, the cover photo of their story on Science Magazine even uses the Los Angeles Times and The Denver Post as examples. However, according to Google, the LA Times is the 4th largest and most read newspaper/news platform in the United States. If the LA Times isn’t considered “main stream” in the US, then who the hell is?

On a side note, considering that this study was 5 years in the making and the researches could not have possibly envisioned the “fake news epidemic” which has manifested itself over the course of the last 2 years, for obvious reasons, the research does shed a unique light on this phenomenon. As Airel White, one of the lead authors of the study surmised, fake or otherwise, the immediate impact of news articles and events on American society through social media is extraordinary. Meaning that the LA Times has literally the same ability to post a story to Twitter as some random troll or propagandist in Russia, and each story has equal potential to spread using that same network.

As White remarks herself “The things the media talk about are what we as Americans talk about, for better and for worse.” Media meaning any venue or platform in general which has the ability to reach the public, including both social media and traditional media outlets.



Categories: Publishing/Media

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