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.

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