Giving Compass' Take:
- RAND Corporation highlights truth decay in the age of digital media - tracking the ways and the extent to which news has been taken over by opinions.
- How can funders use this information to guide effective funding for journalism?
- Learn why foundations should care about global media funding.
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In What Measurable Ways Did the Style of News Presentation in Print Journalism Change Between 1989 and 2017?
We found that although much of the language and tone of reporting in the New York Times, Washington Post, and St. Louis Post-Dispatch remained constant over the past 30 years, there were quantifiable changes in certain linguistic areas between the pre- and post-2000 periods. For example, the three newspapers’ reporting before 2000 used language that was more heavily event- and context-based; contained more references to time, official titles, positions, and institutions; and used more-descriptive, elaborative language to provide story details. In contrast, we found that post-2000 reporting engaged in more storytelling and more heavily emphasized interactions, personal perspective, and emotion.
In What Measurable Ways Did the Style of News Presentation in Broadcast Journalism Change Between 1989 and 2017?
Broadcast journalism went through changes similar to those of newspaper journalism in the same period. Our analysis found a gradual shift in broadcast television coverage from more conventional reporting in the pre-2000 period, during which news stories tended to use precise and concrete language and often turned to public sources of authority, to more subjective coverage in the post-2000 period, which relied less on concrete language and more on unplanned speech, expression of opinions, interviews, and arguments.
How Does the Style of News Presentation in Broadcast Journalism Differ from the Style Used in Prime-Time Cable Programming over the Period 2000–2017?
We found a starker contrast between broadcast news presentation and prime-time cable programming in the post-2000 period. Compared with news presentation on broadcast television, programming on cable outlets exhibited a dramatic and quantifiable shift toward subjective, abstract, directive, and argumentative language and content based more on the expression of opinion than on reporting of events. This xviii News in a Digital Age was accompanied by an increase in airtime on cable channels devoted to advocacy for those opinions rather than on balanced description of context. It should be noted, however, that some of this contrast is to be expected based on the very different objectives and business models of the two platforms. Cable programming, particularly during prime time, is geared toward a narrower audience and uses opinions and provocative material to attract attention; broadcast television aims at a wider audience and sticks closer to traditional forms of reporting.
How Does the Style of News Presentation in Online Journalism Differ from That of Print Journalism over the Period 2012–2017?
Comparing newspaper and online journalism in the 2012–2017 period, we found that the news presentation style in newspapers sampled remained far more anchored in what could be considered traditional reporting than the online media outlets sampled. News presentation in newspapers tended to be more strongly characterized by use of characters, time, and descriptive language (to describe events or issues) and by a more narrative context. It also appeared to be more strongly characterized by the use of concrete objects, numbers, references to duration, and connections to individual roles, spatial relationships, and retrospective reasoning. In contrast, language in the online journalism sample tended to be more conversational, with more emphasis on interpersonal interactions and personal perspectives and opinions. Appeals were less narrative and more argumentative, with an eye toward persuasion.
Although we found measurable evidence of more widespread use of opinion and subjectivity in the presentation of news than in the past, the change has been subtle, not wholesale. News reporting has not shifted from Walter Cronkite–style serious reporting to fiction or propaganda—even in the biggest contrasts we saw, there was still much similarity over time and across platforms. Future research could extend this analysis to other types of media, such as local newspapers and television news, news radio programs, video content, and photographs that appear alongside news stories.