“Some News Leaves People Knowing Less”

That’s the conclusion reached by social scientists based on polling results released by Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind Poll released on November 21, 2011.  They state, “the poll asked New Jerseyans about current events at home and abroad, and from what sources—if any—they get their information. The conclusion: Sunday morning news shows do the most to help people learn about current events while some outlets, especially Fox News, lead people to be even less informed than those who say they don’t watch any news at all.”

The poll surveyed 612 adults statewide by telephone (landline and cell) from October 17 through October 23, 2011, and has a margin of error of +/-3.5 percent.  This means that on questions that look at the responses of the entire 612 people, there would have to be a 7 percent difference to be statistically significant.  It does not say whether this was a random sample nor does it provide any other information.  Its link to the methodology does not work. Also, remember, they only surveyed people in New Jersey; they therefore do not get to say anything about people outside of the state.

Aside from unanswered questions about the specific questions asked and demographics of the respondents, the conclusions drawn go beyond what the survey can actually establish.  Does watching Fox “lead people” to be less informed?  Does watching Sunday morning news shows cause people to be more informed? Really?

They have found a correlation (or a connection) between what people in New Jersey know and their preferred TV news sources. But correlation does not mean causation. To demonstrate causation, you have to rule out other possible explanations. When people say the “watch” Fox News, does that mean they actually pay attention? Maybe it is just in the background while they fix dinner. For people who watch the Sunday morning news, perhaps that is the only thing they are doing, so are not as distracted.

Perhaps some self-selection factors explain what they found.  It may be less that the Sunday news shows are important in helping people learn anything new; perhaps it reflects something about people who might be political/news junkies who choose to watch those shows. It might also be that those who watch the Sunday morning news also obtain information from multiple other sources—the newspaper, the Daily Show, NPR or other online news sources. It may be less about the specific news source as the number of different news sources.  Repetition may increase memory retention.

Perhaps people who watch the Sunday morning news programs also socialize with other people who also watch those programs and have political discussions/arguments about what they are learning.  That may not be the case with those who watch Fox. Discussion might be what increases their knowledge of current events.

Link:Some News Leaves People Knowing Less

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