Tuesday, March 29, 2011

New Research Sheds Light on Media Intake

By Peter Tartaglione

Ethnicity and religion does not affect reader’s views as much as originally thought, according to research.

New research by University of Maryland students is prompting the world of journalism to question their original notions of how the news is absorbed. The student group researched whether a person’s beliefs and background would affect the way he or she would perceive a news story. Researchers took into account readers’ religious beliefs, political beliefs, as well as their background growing up.

The researchers found out some very interesting conclusions. While they discovered that a person’s ethnicity and religion did not strongly influence the way they review news stories, they did discover that their educational background did. Arts and Humanities majors all had responses similar to each other. The study also found that a person’s political affiliation changed the way the participant rated a story, particularly when the issue is a politically debated one.

“Going into this research project, we expected that the background’s of people would significantly effect how they looked at news stories,” said Emily Winemiller, one of the lead researchers. “While with a larger data set and an extended period of time to collect and analyze the data we may have had different results, it was still very interesting to see that there was little difference in answers by our subjects.”

Researchers used News Trust as a Tool

The group rummaged through reviews and comments of various news stories on the Web site News Trust Baltimore to gather their information.

News Trust, a non-profit group based in California, is a unique Web site that allows the registered readers to review and rate news stories. Over 2,800 stories have been reviewed thus far, on a variety of topics. There are a number of different questions that are asked to the reviewer after they have read the story. Some of the questions include how fair or unfair the story is and how credible they perceive it to be?

While the student researchers labored to get the most accurate results possible, they felt that they could have found out more information with a larger sample size, as their sample size was particularly small.

The lead researchers of the student group are Emily Winemiller, Jenna Shulman, and Danielle Chazen.

Researchers Tested for Hostile Media Effect

The theory of Hostile Media Effect was the basis for the groups research. Hostile Media effect refers to the finding that people with strong biases toward a certain issue have the perception that media coverage is biased against their opinions, regardless of the reality.

The student researchers said the data that they did acquire addressed some big questions in the world of journalism and communications.

“It was very interesting to see the data and analyze the result; that was probably the most fun part of the research as well,” said Winemiller. “Seeing the information about the different people and then matching that up with the reviews that we read was very eye-opening in certain situations.”

Some Problems were Encountered with the Research

Winemiller did say, however, that the majority of the respondents to her group’s survey were people who are in the journalism class, who were between the ages of 21 and 30.

“There was not enough variation in the data collection,” she said. “Everyone in our class is seemingly biased because they all knew about the assignment prior to taking the survey. This could be an explanation for why we got the same answers from most if our subjects.”

Political Stories Show Variation

However, when the story became political and the group looked at the subject’s political background, the data did vary.

“With the political stories, people’s opinions changed and their answers to the survey varied much more than with the other questions,” said Winemiller. “The subjects political beliefs would be a much bigger factor in our final results if we had a larger sample size. The political beliefs section was the one question where we didn’t have mostly uniform answers, the results for that were pretty varied.”

The researchers analyzed a significant amount of data to achieve their results, and the common conclusion among the group was that religion and ethnicity did not affect their views on a story as much as anticipated. This could mean a shift in the way niche publications cater to their specific audiences. However, the conclusion that background does not have any bearing on perceived news bias could still be tested further before any definite conclusions are reached.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Ethics of deception

As a journalist, it is important to be transparent about who you are when conducting an interview. Ethical lines are often blurred when it comes to breaking a story, but this is one of those times where the journalist went way too far over the line.
The reporter, Ian Murphy, the editor of the news Web site “Buffalo Beast,” called up Wisconsin governor Scott Walker while posing as a billionaire conservative activist, who was close to Governor Walker. Murphy misrepresented himself to get an inside look at Walker’s strategies and ideas. They spoke on the phone for nearly 20 minutes under false pretences. Murphy has been using his deceit and poor ethics to score interviews on major media outlets across the country. His shameless move has gotten his online news Web site more publicity than it ever deserves.
This interview could have told us much more than your typical face to face interview wouldn’t. For starters, the governor instantly had his guard down, because he thought that he was talking to a friend. There could be some sensitive information that he was hiding that shouldn’t get out to the public, but this reporter used unethical means to try and find this. Everyone speaks to reporters differently than when they are speaking to their own friends.
Using such deceptive ways would absolutely lead to more candid survey answers; however it is not the right thing to do. It doesn’t matter if you think people will speak more openly when they are unaware who they are talking to, acquiring survey information that way is wrong.
Risks of deception are greater now, especially for those being deceived, because of the Internet. If you say one wrong thing, Twitter, Facebook, blogs and traditional outlets blow up with the information you were tricked into giving. It instantly pays dividends to the person doing the tricking, and will make the tricked look foolish. It will spin out of control before people even have the chance to take a breath. Twenty years ago, the reporter would formulate a story and check sources and everything before printing something. They would be thorough. Now, its just get the story as quickly as possible.