Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Balkanization of news

Disturbing post from Amanda Terkel of Think Progress (http://www.alternet.org/blogs/peek/83758/), discussing how news (particularly television news) has become more polarized than ever. While the post ends with some digs at FOX News (which I'm OK with, as it was FOX that poured gas on this particular fire), the broader point is the more disturbing one. With the rise of talk radio, and television news following in the ideological footsteps, we approach a future where people will not even be able to agree on what the facts are upon which to base their opinions. And it's not just conservatives that are guilty of this. I love the man, but if your only news source was Keith Olbermann's "Countdown" you'd live in just as much of an echo chamber as a FOX News devotee.

While I would love to see media outlets be more journalistically responsible, the only realistic solution is for the news consuming public to be smarter and more educated about the news they consume.

Wait. Did I say that was the REALISTIC solution? Wow, we are in trouble.

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A new analysis by University of Georgia associate professor Barry Hollander finds that between 1998 and 2006, Americans became increasingly polarized in their news-gathering habits. After examining five national Pew Center for the People and the Press during that time period, Hollander concluded that the public now lives in “a huge echo chamber of attitudes and ideas.”

The Atlanta Journal Constitution’s Political Insider reports:


In 1998, 27 percent of Republicans and 25 percent of Democrats tuned in regularly to Atlanta-based CNN. Eight years later, the number of Democrats had risen to 29 percent.


But the number of Republicans who tuned in to CNN had shrunk to 19 percent. Gosh, where do you think they went?


Over the same period, Fox News’ share of Republican viewers jumped from 14 to 36 percent.

Hollander also notes that conservatives “dramatically dropped news sources that they perceive as being biased against their position.” Evidently, this included C-SPAN, which also saw a dramatic drop in conservative viewers.

These findings are similar to a Norman Lear Center/Zogby International poll from November 2007, which found that 22 percent of conservatives say they “never” enjoy entertainment that reflects values other than their own, as opposed to just 7 percent of liberals. Fox News was also the “most politically divisive TV channel,” with 70 percent of conservatives and just 3 percent of liberals watching it daily.

But too much Fox News may be bad news for conservatives. An April 2007 Pew Research Study survey found that viewers of the conservative Fox News channel had the lowest knowledge of national and international affairs.

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