Focus on the facts, not the opinions, says study

A study into the methods journalists use to tell their stories has suggested that balanced, neutral journalism which is driven by telling both sides of the story at all times leads to readers feeling confused, less likely to engage with stories, and doubting their own ability to understand what is going on.

The study, carried out on 538 college students by Ohio State university professor Raymond Pingree, asked students to read four different versions of the same story about the healthcare bill being debated by the US Congress.

Two articles were written in the style of ‘traditional’ journalism – with a focus on obtaining original quotes from both sides of the story, while the other two were written as if by ‘lazy’ journos – reading the proposed bill, confirming if what it stated was true or not by via internet research and then offering the reader a solid conclusion as to who was telling the truth.

The former caused a reaction of “nihilistic despair” among the students tested, claiming that they didn’t know who was right, resulting in the conclusion that they “may as well vote for a politician based on how good his hairstyle and teeth were; or simply not bother at all”.

The latter, however, led the students to a conclusion they could either agree or disagree with, but most importantly, they felt they understood the issue.

Pingree stated there are “consequences to journalism that just reports what each side says with no fact checking.

“It makes readers feel like they can’t figure out what the truth is. And I would speculate that this attitude may lead people to tune out politics entirely, or to be more accepting of dishonesty by politicians.”

He also suggests that there has been a change in the role a journalist plays in society today. “It is interesting that there are now institutions within journalism dedicated to resolving [factual] disputes [such as the website PolitiFact.com].  A few decades ago, that was seen as the role of all journalists.  Journalists didn’t see themselves as stenographers, but as judges, keeping the lawyers honest in the court of public opinion.  We don’t see that as much anymore.”

Follow this link to read the study in full.

(Source: The Register)

Photo taken by Flickr user garryknight, licensed under Creative Commons.

 

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