Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Smaller news outlets can affect national debates on public-policy issues, through social media

"In an age that relies on internet publication and social-media dispersal, even small- to medium-size media outlets can have a dramatic impact on the content and partisan balance of the national conversation about major public-policy issues," according to research by a Harvard University political scientist's research, Peter Reuell reports for the university.

University Professor Gary King
The average print circulation of the 48 newspapers in the study by University Professor Gary King was 50,000, so we’re not talking rural journalism here, but the five-year study suggests that a similar phenomenon could exist on a smaller scale or a state level among news outlets with smaller audiences.

"I would guess that something similar might work on a smaller scale, but we'd have to study the issue to be sure, of course. It would also be interesting to study what happens if a group of local sites collaborate on stories, along the lines the outlets did for our study," King told The Rural Blog.

King and two former students, Benjamin Schneer of Florida State University and Ariel White of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, "found that if just three outlets wrote about a major national policy topic — such as jobs, the environment, or immigration — discussion of that topic across social media rose by more than 62 percent, and the balance of opinion in the national conversation could be swayed by several percentage points," Reuell reports.

King told Reuell, “These national conversations about major policy areas are essential to democracy. Today this conversation takes place, in part, in some of the 750,000,000 publicly available social media posts written by people every day — and all available for research. At one time, the national conversation was whatever was said in the public square, where people would get up on a soapbox, or when they expressed themselves in newspaper editorials or water-cooler debates. This is a lot of what democracy is about. The fact that the media has such a large influence on the content of this national conversation is crucial for everything from the ideological balance of the nation’s media outlets, to the rise of fake news, to the ongoing responsibility of professional journalists.”

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