When the media is in on the experiment

Collaborative study with Harvard's Gary King, MIT Professor Ariel White, and Florida State University Professor Benjamin Schneer, shows even smaller media outlets can have wide impact on the national conversation

Ariel White

MIT Professor Ariel White

Photo: Stuart Darsch

Released by the Harvard Gazette:

Small media, big payback
With a readership that runs into the millions, few would argue that the New York Times doesn’t influence public debate on a host of issues. But what about a news outlet with a circulation of only about 50,000?

The answer, says Albert J. Weatherhead III University Professor Gary King, is that even small- to medium-sized media outlets can have a dramatic effect on the content and partisan balance of the national conversation about major public policy issues.

In the first large scale randomized media experiment ever conducted, King and former students Benjamin Schneer, now assistant professor at Florida State University, and Ariel White, now assistant professor at MIT, found that if just three outlets write about a particular 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 several percentage points based on that coverage.

“For several hundred years, scholars have tried to measure the influence of the media. Most people think it is influential, but measuring this influence rigorously with randomized experiments has until now been impossible,” King said. “Our findings suggest that the effect of the media is surprisingly large. Our study’s implications suggest every journalist wields a major power and so has an important responsibility.”
Read the full story here

Read the original paper in Science here

Additional articles covering the newly released study:
The New York Times: "When the Media Is in on the Experiment" by Niraj Chokshi
The LaTimes: "Scientists prove that the public pays attention to journalism" by Deborah Netburn

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