No More Moderate Politics? Newspaper Reporters and Political Extremes

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Protestors outside the Supreme Court (photo by Jay Tamboli)

Protestors outside the Supreme Court – Photo by Jay Tamboli

Media Bias – Measuring Coverage and Tone

McCluskey and Kim measured coverage, the mentioning of groups in articles, and tone, whether the context was positive, negative, or neutral.

Advocacy groups were self-identified on a very liberal to very conservative seven point scale. Position in the paper (front page, etc.) was coded, as well as the tone, positive, negative, or neutral, of the article.

One limitation of the study was its exclusion of other types of media such as television, Internet presence, and radio.

The author noted in his interview with Decoded Science that measuring other media, such as television archival material, is more problematic, and “is often incomplete or cannot be searched.  For other potentially useful media such as websites and blogs, discovering a true population is very difficult, especially as web addresses come and go.”  

Any future research on the subject would be strengthened by the inclusion of these other media sources, as search methods improve the accessibility of other types of media archive.

Media Polarization

Reporters respond to the current political climate by reporting political extremes somewhat more than moderate views. The study reported that, “[o]verall, the results demonstrate more support for the polarization hypothesis than for moderatism.”

McCluskey and Kim also noted that the media have a “strong economic incentive” to cater to the views of their readership. Also, presenting an issue as if there were two views in opposition, rather than multiple, overlapping, nuanced viewpoints, makes for a more dramatic news-story, and one that is inherently easier to write.

Implications of Political Polarization in News Reporting

In Decoded Science’s interview with Dr. McCluskey, he stated that one result of the shift in newspaper coverage  is that “[t]his potentially gives the audience a skewed sense of the world, affecting their political attitudes and behaviors.”

McCluskey expressed a desire for his research to highlight the media’s preference for two-sided arguments featuring extreme views, and stated, “Perhaps these ideas will inform journalists and their bosses to peel back the layers and see that some issues are nuanced.”  McCluskey and Kim provided a service to all of us by pointing out that the guiding principles of newspaper reporting ain’t what they used to be.

Sources:

Gans, H. Deciding What’s News: A Study of CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News, Newsweek and Time. (1979). New York: Pantheon Books.

McCluskey, M. and Kim, Y. E.  Moderatism or Polarization? Representation ofAdvocacy Groups’ Ideology in Newspapers. (2012). Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly. (2012). Accessed September 9, 2012.

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