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Mediate Metrics Update

My sincere apologies to those who have been following my work, but I have come to the conclusion that I must suspend my efforts to measure political bias in the media, at least for the time being. The demands of other life priorities, coupled with the challenges of getting the system to work to my satisfaction, have made this decision necessary.

Despite this unfortunate turn, the effort was highly educational and afforded me certain perspectives on political news bias —- both in how it is delivered and in how it is received — that I will share with readers over the coming days, weeks, and months. Having devoted over 60 hours a week to this task for 6 months, one cannot help but gain a few insights along the way.

Perhaps most interesting (and amusing) was the reaction I received from the blogosphere when my efforts came to light. I have often commented that so-called media “watchdog” groups are all about watching the other dogs, and therefore lose their value for those who simply want a way of handicapping the political information they gather. But the most engaged viewers ARE partisan, and the feedback I received from them suggested that they were not interested in an objective bias metric. This phenomenon parallels the media construct of the day; “slanted” news outlets are far more popular than those which tend towards the middle, particularly in cable news.

Simply put, partisan viewers tend to be engaged and participate like sports fans at a pep rally.

Not surprisingly, some media people aggressively challenged the fundamental value of measuring news bias at all. My favorite comment came from a British journalist, who starkly said that,” I’m not so into the whole impartial journalism ideal. My ideal is fealty to the truth, not to balance.” When I first read that comment, I pictured a court room in which a lawyer imperiously states that, “I don’t have facts or witnesses, but I am uniquely blessed to know the absolute TRUTH!”

Short trial.

In fairness to that commenter, my view of media objectivity is not — nor has it ever been — robotic commentators stating cold facts without passion or perspective. Rather, it is a healthy balance of thoughtful, engaging analysis that fairly presents BOTH sides of key political issues. That, and the fact that I’m an early riser, is probably why I am a fan of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” Viewpoints are intelligently and passionately delivered on both sides of any political topic, although the format equally exposes them to raging partisan criticism (especially when Joe Scarborough takes issue with his own). Still, for an independent like me, it’s a great way to hear a passionate, 2-sided discourse and form my own opinion, discounting for MSNBC’s over-arching liberal bias, of course.

One conclusion I could not help but come to is that those most passionate and engaged about their political views want to be affirmed by the media, not informed. Of course, those folks were not the market segment I was trying to reach, but they were the most vocal. The challenge for any media bias rating service like the one I had envisioned was reaching the next tier — those who are going about their busy daily lives, and simply grazing the news for political insights. As I have noted elsewhere, I cannot tell you how many times I have had conversations with uninitiated viewers who proudly state that, “The only news program I watch is the O’Reilly Factor … or Hardball …,” etc.

If such low engagement viewers and voters are acquiring their political insights this way … or from political news sound bites that resonate throughout our society at the speed of light … or from the deluge of Super-Pac ads sponsored by some seemingly high-minded “citizens” group …

… then we all have cause for concern.

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Understanding The News

I’m about halfway through Blur by Tom Rosenstiel and Bill Kovach, and I can’t recommend this book enough. Classes on its content should be made an educational requirement.

Here are some factoids I gleaned from my readings:

  • Newspaper staffs are down by roughly 30 percent from ten years earlier. For network news, the cuts have been even steeper.
  • Traditional online news sites have gotten bigger, not smaller, despite the proliferation of online news outlets.
  • When changes in communicating to the masses have occurred in the past, existing power elites have tried to exploit the transition in almost every case.
  • The argument culture limits the information we get, rather than broadening it.

The fundamental premise of the book is that the objective-and-disciplined mediation function has largely disappeared from news reporting. In parallel, business models have arisen that focus more on assertion (goal: disseminate information quickly) and affirmation (goal: maintain audience loyalty) than on verification. As such, the burden of editing and analyzing the news falls to individuals. In essence, we must become our own investigative journalists.

The authors point out that the clash between fact-and-faith has occurred numerous times in history, providing both risks and opportunities in every case. In this instance, the challenge of “skeptically knowing” the truth about the news is indeed burdensome, but we can now interact with the media, political leaders, and others in an unprecedented manner.

Powerful stuff, if you think about it.

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Open Season on Journalists: Trump versus Todd

It seems like every time I turn around, some political figure is taking on a journalist. Here’s the latest installment, featuring a very edgy Donald Trump chastising Chuck Todd of MSNBC during his Daily Rundown Show this morning.

Wouldn’t you love to see focus group ratings during one of these exchanges?

My sense is that many political figures already have.

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Political News: More Commonly Used Media Bias Techniques

Combing through news transcripts for bias indicators provides you with either unique insights or temporary insanity. Despite my questionable mental state, I’ve uncovered some subtler tricks-of-the-news-trade that I’d like to share with my readers.

Value Judgments: By definition, a value judgment is an assessment that reveals more about the values of the person making the assessment than about the reality of what is assessed. Value judgments can be either direct or projected.

Direct value judgments are often preceded with “I,” either explicitly or as understood. Examples are: “I don’t believe that …,” “that won’t work …” Projected value judgments are less obvious, but are used extensively by certain commentators and politicians. Speakers, often wrapping themselves in the flag or as the spokesperson for some popular group, stealthily project their personal opinions with statements like, “Americans won’t support…,”or  “People are not going to …” It doesn’t jump out at you, but the speaker is putting their view in someone else’s mouth.

Loaded Questions and Leading Questions:  A program anchor is in a position of power to determining how the news is presented while viewers sit passively, accepting that the commentator is objectively informing and moderating discussions based on years of conditioning. In the modern era of news programming that is often not the case. Dialogs are rife with loaded and leading questions.

The popular definition of a loaded question is one which contains as controversial assumption but, for the purposes of semantically evaluating bias, my definition is that it is one that contains indisputable evidence of bias. It gives a strong indication of how an anchor wants his/her respondent to answer. Guidelines for recognizing loaded questions include:

  • Embedded value-judgments by the questioner: “Don’t you think that sounds <odd/wrong/funny/strange>”?
  • Multiple questions within the same statement: “Who would support…?”, “What is the thinking….?”, “Where did they get…?”, “When …?”, “Why …?”

Leading questions are usually more subtle, and don’t have the clear indicators of loaded questions. Still, a savvy viewer can generally pick them out instinctively, particularly when considered together with succeeding responses. For the most part, news programs conform to the cardinal rule of litigation: Don’t ask a question if you don’t know how it will be answered. In the information age, commentators are rarely uninformed about the positions of their guests. In fact, most of them are regulars.

Once you are aware of these rhetorical devices, you’ll be surprised how often you will notice them while watching, “The News.”

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Political News Sources: More is Better

I came across an interesting study this weekend, conducted by World Public Opinion. Org, that portrays the extent of misinformation among voters. Further on, it states that , “… those who had greater levels of exposure to news sources had lower levels of misinformation.” Click the link below for the full article and study.

Media Bias Measurement – Prelude

Have you noticed that political news is more about spin and emotional-triggering than facts and fairness?

Me too.

For years, I’ve been troubled by political news bias. Having worked briefly at a media measurement company, I began to wonder whether bias could be measured. I scoured the internet, looking for a method-or-model for quantitatively dimensioning bias. I could find none, so I developed my own.

While I believe that the core system is sound, further development is dependent on the input and guidance of others. If nothing else, I hope to learn from the process, and share that learning as broadly as possible.

Please visit this site again soon. It is obviously under construction, but I will be posting surveys in the coming days and weeks, based on transcripts of popular news programs, that will desperately need respondents. All data will be aggregated and anonymized. Your privacy will be diligently protected.

If nothing else, this will be an interesting experiment. But if this works, we might change the media landscape.

Go big or go home, right?

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