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Author Topic: Lean Left? Lean Right? News Media May Take Their Cues from Customers
snopes
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Any politician will tell you that sometimes what we call things is the most political decision of all. Political consultants like Frank Luntz, a Republican, have become legendary for their way of spinning language to partisan advantage: ”death tax” instead of “estate tax,” “war on terror” instead of “war in Iraq.” But most people expect spin from politicians. When they perceive partisan slant in the news itself, they typically interpret it as evidence of underlying bias by reporters or media owners.

But one of the most interesting things coming out of research on the economics of the media industry has been the notion that media slant may simply reflect business rather than politics.

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/07/business/media/07scene.html

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Steve
Happy Holly Days


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"So although politicians from both sides tend to accuse the news media of partisanship and negativity, the data suggests that they ought to blame the public. The papers basically reflect what their readers want to hear."

If papers basically reflect what their readers want to hear, I think you can blame the papers as well. What's wrong with publishing stories that challenge your readers' assumptions a bit?

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snopes
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quote:
What's wrong with publishing stories that challenge your readers' assumptions a bit?
The fact that the news business is a business, and the bulk of the news providers' audience doesn't want to be challenged.

- snopes

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Kahuna Burger
I Saw Three Shipments


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True story from the trenches as it were... several years back, I was pretty active in the Freedom to Marry movement in massachusetts. One year, in preperation for a major hearing on an anti-marriage bill, I helped set up the press conference for the Religious Coalition for the Freedom to Marry. (I was a mostly straight, unmarried atheist. It was a little ironic.)

Anyway, we did up a press release with the groups declaration and (fairly impressive) list of signers, had a very nice prayer breakfast then walked over to the statehouse where they had a press conference making it totally clear to anyone with a pulse that the gay marriage issue had dedicated religious beleivers and clergy on both sides of it. The Boston Globe headline for that news cycle? "Gay rights, religious, square off at statehouse." with a big article about how people of religious convictions were opposing people who wanted marriage rights for same sex couples. [flame]

The Globe later editorialized in favor of same sex marriage. The slant of the peice was not to their political bias, it was towards presenting as neat and simple a picture as possible for folks to digest over their morning bagel.

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keokuk
Deck the Malls


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quote:
Dr. Gentzkow and Dr. Shapiro started in the world of the political. They parsed the words of politicians — all the words — from the 2005 Congressional Record. They found the 1,000 most partisan phrases uttered in the year. They measured this by comparing how frequently a phrase was used by one side or the other.

In 2005, phrases like “death tax,” “illegal aliens,” “Terri Schiavo,” and “nuclear power” came mostly from Republicans. Phrases like “minimum wage,” “public broadcasting,” “middle class” and “oil companies” came mostly from Democrats. Using those phrases, the two economists made a simple index of partisanship that comported nicely with standard measures like a politician’s score on the Americans for Democratic Action ideological scale.

The study then analyzed 417 newspapers in the United States (accounting for some 70 percent of total newspaper circulation) as if they were politicians. The researchers measured, for example, all the times in articles about Social Security that a newspaper referred to “personal accounts” (Republican) or to “private accounts” (Democratic). Their measure of partisan slant came only from the news coverage. They did not include anything from the editorial page.

I really don't buy their methodology. I understand that certain phrases are more likely to be said by people on one side of the aisle than the other, and something like "death tax" or "pro-abortion" could be argued to have an implicit bias, but just because Republicans said "Terri Schiavo" a lot more than Democrats in 2005 and Democrats said "oil companies" a lot more than Republicans, I don't think the usage of either term in a hard news article is indicative of any type of discernible bias.

Also, they never really address the possibility that people are choosing their newspapers based on which one they think suits them the best personally, rather than newspapers targeting their existing audience's political ideology. A clear case of this would probably be the Washington Times, which exists only to serve a right-wing agenda, and is only read by people who are specifically going out of their way to read news with a right-wing slant. Hell, at least the New York Post has a good sports page.

(Ironically, not that I'm about to look it up, but I'd be willing to bet that given how it backfired, Terry Schiavo was in a lot more Democrats' lexicons than Republicans' for 2006.)

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Steve
Happy Holly Days


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quote:
Originally posted by snopes:
quote:
What's wrong with publishing stories that challenge your readers' assumptions a bit?
The fact that the news business is a business, and the bulk of the news providers' audience doesn't want to be challenged.

- snopes

Sure. But if a paper in a Republican district ignored all stories that reflected poorly on Republicans, the paper itself would surely bear some responsibility for its own bias.
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keokuk
Deck the Malls


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quote:
Originally posted by Kahuna Burger:
The Boston Globe headline for that news cycle? "Gay rights, religious, square off at statehouse." with a big article about how people of religious convictions were opposing people who wanted marriage rights for same sex couples.

While that's a misleading headline-- headlines suck. In a newspaper, you have to find a way to make a fragment of a sentence describing a huge article fit into a space of pre-determined size, usually under tight deadline requirements. They'll often change several times because of changing article size and things of that sort. (Look at a print edition of any newspaper with more than one edition published per day and compare the headlines to the headlines on the website for the same articles, and they'll very rarely be the same.)

While your example is pretty inexcusably incorrect, I could never stand headlines when I was a page editor because they're the first thing that people see when they look at the paper but, by design, are practically an afterthought when it comes to writing them.

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keokuk
Deck the Malls


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quote:
Originally posted by Steve:
Sure. But if a paper in a Republican district ignored all stories that reflected poorly on Republicans, the paper itself would surely bear some responsibility for its own bias.

Given the way that bias is defined in this article though, would the news section really be the place for that challenging to have any impact? Taking their example of Democrats using "private accounts" while Republicans use "personal accounts" in describing Bush's Social Security Plan. If you're a newspaper in a heavily Republican area, would saying "private accounts" really have that big of an impact on challenging anyone's views?

Although by the logic of this study, if a paper published a news analysis story absolutely blasting why Bush's plan wouldn't work, but referred to the accounts as personal rather than private, it would have a Republican bias.

The place for challenging viewpoints in a meaningful way is the opinion page, which was not addressed in this particular study since it only studied bias in the news section.

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Sly Dog
I'm Dreaming of a White Sale


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Kahuna, he said while donning his asbestos suit, it really isn't about Marriage and never was. Marriage was chosen as the banner because it would draw the level of attention wanted. I can find statistics that show a low percentage of hetro couples marry; "marriage" don't mean squat except to married people and probably to many of them it only means something they wish they hadn't gotten involved with. So really there are several forces at play here. I have a friend who was married to a woman and then decided he was gay. Most of us (his friends) thought so and weren't surprised when he announced. And he and I still are in contact and are still friends, so don't anyone get off on the tangent, OK? So, here is my point in all of this...draw parallels if you can...the best friend I ever had in my life was a man. We served in the Marine Corps together. When he was dying from the after effects of his wounds in Viet Nam the hospital would not even admit to me that he was a patient because I was not "family".

Now, This is a long way around the point post, and if it is inappropriate I will just butt out, but what I am trying to say is that while I do not endorse the homosexual life style, I am able to see the injustice that can flow from not being a "legal" or "blood" relative of someone you love and who loves you in return.

--------------------
Gruntled Postal Employee

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