When news leaves us less informed

December 19, 2011

In November this year, Fairleigh Dickenson University came out with a study that suggests that some news sources make us less likely to know what’s going on in the world:

The conclusion: Sunday morning news shows do the most to help people learn about current events, while some outlets, especially Fox News, lead people to be even less informed than those who say they don’t watch any news at all…

Exposure to Sunday morning news shows helps respondents on this question: seeing these programs leads to an 11-point increase in the likelihood of getting the answer right. Listening to NPR also helps, but the biggest aid to answering correctly is The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, which leads to a 6-point decrease in identifying the  protestors as Republicans, and a 12-point increase in the likelihood of giving the correct answer.

While progressives may laugh and consider this to be hardly news at all, it’s worth considering the implications for this research.

What is interesting for me is how many people knew what was going on (i.e. were able to answer the questions correctly) without consuming any news at all.

To me, this suggests several things, including the role of social media in spreading news (for example, about Egypt or the Occupy movement) and the importance of word-of-mouth. While reading the New York Times, watching MSNBC or listening to NPR makes you more informed, it suggests a base level of awareness that is reasonably high.

It also suggests that we absorb news from a range of sources — headlines, snippets from conversation, and so on.

[box border=”full”]For more about the social nature of news, read my post: Using social media to communicate visually to voters.[/box]

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