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The Age of Affirmation

A new study finds that TV viewers watch the news more for affirmation than for information.

When you turn on the evening news, are you actually hoping to learn something?
A new study suggests that viewers worldwide turn to particular broadcasters to affirm — rather than inform — their opinions. It’s a notion familiar to those dismayed by the paths blazed by cable news networks FOX and MSNBC — although the study finds one (perhaps unlikely) network may actually foster greater intellectual openness.

The study in the December issue of Media, War & Conflict by Shawn Powers, a fellow at the USC Center on Public Diplomacy, and Mohammed el-Nawawy, an assistant professor in the department of communication at Queens University of Charlotte, found that the longer viewers had been watching Al Jazeera English, the less dogmatic they were in their opinions and therefore more open to considering alternative and clashing opinions.

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Abstract: This article examines the role of the global news media in either furthering the balkanization of the global news environment or moving towards a globally connected and engaged aggregation of publics. Drawing on the results of a six-country study of media viewing habits, cultural, political and cognitive dispositions of viewers of Al-Jazeera English in comparison to viewers of CNN International and BBC World, the authors outline two findings: (1) viewers worldwide turn to particular broadcasters to affirm rather than inform their opinions, meaning the global news media are likely to reinforce existing attitudes and stereotypes of cultural ‘others’; and (2) the longer viewers have been watching Al-Jazeera English, the less dogmatic they are in their thinking and thus more open to considering alternative and clashing opinions. The authors conclude by arguing that, when media jettison the principles embodied in ‘war journalism’, broadcasters can indeed have a latent yet substantial impact on fostering cross-cultural understanding and reconciliation.

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