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Media & Online Behavior

How People Make Sense of the Media Environment with Misinformation and Fake News   

In Digital Journalism, media scholar and IPR associate Pablo Boczkowski and María Celeste Wagner of the University of Pennsylvania consider how people make sense of, and deal with, a changing media landscape perceived to be filled with misinformation and fake news. They conducted in-depth interviews with a diverse sociodemographic sample of 71 adults in Chicago, Philadelphia, and Miami between January and October 2017, the first 10 months of the Trump administration. Overall, the researchers’ findings indicate that participants shared a negative view of the quality of news reporting, but they trusted the news sources they consumed. Participants said they were more aware of the quality of news, using several strategies to determine truthfulness such as their personal experiences, long-term relationships with media, and reading news from different ideological sources. While many use social media, they consider it as generally untrustworthy. But they also saw it as a space to find credible news sources via their trusted personal contacts, who act as fact-checkers, credibility assessors, and gatekeepers. This finding adds to theories of personal influence when it comes to news, indicating that the current state of the media landscape has made users eager for opinion leaders who can offer assessments of the credibility of news. The researchers suggest this implies that journalism needs to reinvent itself to meet users’ needs with more fact-oriented—instead of discussion-based—content.

The Emotional Experience of Consuming News About President Trump    

Pablo Boczkowski
Comparative media scholar and IPR associate Pablo Boczkowski’s latest book, Trump and the Media, was written to explore the changing media landscape that journalists face under the Trump administration.

Few studies have looked at the connection between emotions and consuming the news. In a study published in Journalism, Boczkowski and María Celeste Wagner of the University of Pennsylvania observed the emotional experience of consuming news during the first 10 months of the Trump presidency, from January–October 2017, through interviews with 71 people in Chicago, Philadelphia, and Miami. They show that those who read political news, which often focused on President Trump, expressed negative feelings, “in particular anger, frustration, and feeling overwhelmed as part of their experience consuming news.” This was true on both sides of the political spectrum—liberals were more often angry and frustrated about politics and President Trump, while conservatives were more frequently upset about the mainstream media’s coverage of Trump. Interviewees commonly consumed news on social media, finding it more emotionally intense than consuming it directly from a news source because it was more personal. The researchers also uncover that individuals developed coping mechanisms for dealing with the heightened emotions, such as being more selective about news content or avoiding it temporarily. In some cases, taking political action shifted negative emotions from reading the news into positive ones.

News, Entertainment, or Both?  

In today’s media environment, with late-night talk shows and TV pundits on broadcast news, lines have blurred between news and entertainment. In a study, media scholar and IPR associate Stephanie Edgerly and her co-author explore how audiences perceive the genre of a news story in a hybrid media environment. They asked participants to watch three separate news segments with hosts taking a traditional news correspondent approach, a combatant approach—where a host engaged in a more aggressive and curt style—and a comic approach—where a host included humor in their approach. Participants then ranked them as news, entertainment, or a mixture of both. The researchers find that 80% of viewers considered the correspondent to be news, 60% considered the combatant to be news, and 11% labeled the comic as news. In a separate experimental study, they asked participants to rank news headlines from The New York Times, Mother Jones, Drudge Report, and The Daily Show on a scale of 1 (entertainment) to 5 (news). The average rating for “news-ness” was 3.74, indicating that respondents viewed the headlines as a mixture of news and entertainment. The researchers' overall findings reveal modern media’s hybridity and show that audiences do not purely view news reporting as either news or entertainment. This suggests the need for further study on the concept of news and its role in a democratic society. 

Are TV Drug Ads a Good or Bad Influence? 

Since 1997, prescription drugs have been advertised on American television, and pharmaceutical companies spent over $5 billion in 2016 on direct advertising to consumers. Do the ads raise drug costs by increasing demand, or do they inform people about available treatments for their health problems? Strategy professor and IPR associate Amanda Starc and her colleague Michael Sinkinson trace the impact of drug ads aired in 2008. In The Review of Economic Studies, they show that political advertising prior to the 2008 presidential election diminished time available for drug ads in early primary and battleground states. Concentrating on those states during the election season, they track and compare the sales of all cholesterol-lowering statin drugs, whether name-brand, generic, advertised, or unadvertised. The researchers also examine the effects that year when the manufacturer was forced to withdraw its ads for Lipitor, a major branded statin. They discover that the ads expanded the market for all statins, and that ads were effective in persuading consumers to obtain a particular brand of statin over another, despite their very similar characteristics. More patients taking statins meant that fewer people had heart attacks. The benefit of the health gains from increasing the number of people taking statins exceeded the costs of all direct consumer drug advertising in 2008, Starc and Sinkinson conclude.

How Anger in Protest Movements Can Backfire   

The past decade of American life has been marked by high-profile social movements such as Black Lives Matter and #MeToo. According to research from political and organizational sociologist and IPR associate Brayden King, the anger displayed by activists in such movements can make employees who are sympathetic to the movement, and may have the power to change policy, more resistant to do so. In Administrative Science Quarterly, King and his co-authors, Katherine DeCelles of the University of Toronto and Scott Sonenshein of Rice University, conducted four studies examining the effects of anger on activists and insiders. For the first study, they conducted a field survey, giving questionnaires to Occupy Wall Street protestors and Wall Street professionals as the protests were ongoing in 2011. For the subsequent three studies they conducted both online and in-person surveys of activists in spaces like LGBTQ rights and the fight for racial equality, as well as professionals who self-identified as hoping to drive “transformational change” within their institutions. They asked participants about their feelings regarding anger in protest messaging, finding it has a galvanizing effect on activists and a threatening effect on institutional insiders. The authors write that insiders may “[want] to do something about an injustice committed by an organization but [face] serious career risks for doing so,” as they could have a valued relationship with the target of such change. King and his co-authors suggest further research on other emotions that could potentially be more effective motivators. These could include hope for an institution’s capacity to change, or shame at the asymmetry between one’s ideals and the reality of injustice.