Updated: Newsblogs Make You Almost as Ignorant as Fox News

July 18th, 2007  |  Published in etc  |  2 Comments

So says the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, in a study Wired helpfully rendered into graphic form.

A reader response:

I mainly blame the fact that we, as Americans, know and understand that we simply cannot trust our own media. Everybody has an agenda, and that agenda tells us that the dollar speaks louder than anything.

Yes. That agenda has rendered 71 percent of Fox News viewers unable to identify Scooter Libby. For all they know, he’s a fictional character made up by the em ess em to lead them further into a hall of mirrors. We hates the tricksy reporters! And the deep epistemological uncertainty that has driven so many to newsblogs that tell it like it is has also created a brain cloud that’s confused 64 percent of those refugees about just who Vladimir Putin is, precisely.

Snark aside, it’s interesting that NPR appears to do only a marginally better job than “news magazines.” There goes one of my pet prejudices.

And the difference in numbers between “major newspaper Web sites” and “News from Google, Yahoo, other portals” suggests a suspicion I’ve had since 2002, which is that those portals are generally better at providing the means to create an insular info-cocoon than they are at helping people get a rounded view of the news.

And let’s not ignore the Daily Show and the Colbert Report. They’ll be pissing on nytimes.com’s grave long before anyone at Powerline or Instapundit manages even a neutral “reader ignorance” balance sheet.

Update: Please read the comments … A read of the actual study summary shows that my headline unfairly maligns poor Fox News and the newsblogs, which don’t necessarily make anyone ignorant, even if their regular readers are more likely to be ignorant.


  1. pk says:

    July 19th, 2007 at 8:53 am (#)

    I think what that measures best (although it’s between the lines) is what kind of triangulation people do. Also, it shows the cultiness of people’s stated primary info source.

    Newspaper readers have nothing to prove: They read the paper to be informed. Even if they read other things, they’ll give the newspaper as their primary source, and if you say you read the paper, you do. And you’re more informed! Because, even though newspapers aren’t perfect and anyway they’re already in the grave with the inTVnets throwing on the dirt, THE NEWSPAPERS ARE WHERE THE INFORMATION IS.

    Colbert/Daily Show viewers might claim that’s where they get their info from, but they obviously know they have to be informed in order to get the jokes. They read the paper, but they’ll gladly brag they get it all from late-night comedy.

    By newsblogs, they mean itemized commentary sites like Power Line, Talking Points Memo, stuff like that? Ideodrones who just want to feed their biases might also proudly claim that’s all the info they need. But reading newsblogs only makes you dumb if you don’t follow their links to the newspaper sites and get the story/background. And anyone who reads them as an adjunct to real information would cite their real primary source: newspapers.

    NPR-only people have a similar weak spot; I find NPR is a good headline source, with good deep info on a handful of things each day. It sets a good agenda, but you have to follow through and do the reading. NPR, too, is kind of culty, so I can picture people proudly saying that’s where they get their info–not realizing that when they’re getting “informed,” they’re also showering, driving, making food, etc. (How many times do you remember hearing something on NPR, but can’t recall the crux, details, etc?)

    I guess I’m saying this seems to most accurately measure not so much the individual sources, but rather what kind of people identify with what primary sources. More cult-proud = less informed.

    Aside: “news portals” are hard to get real info from because they’re always dangling celeb-porn at the margins. “LINDSAY LOHAN IN LINGERIE BOOZE-UP!” I’m not made of stone.

  2. mph says:

    July 19th, 2007 at 2:49 pm (#)

    Those are valid points, but the report makes a distinction you assume it didn’t.

    I didn’t bother reading the complete Pew writeup until I read your comment. Had I read it I would have recast the post a tiny bit, because the report does not claim, as I’ll show, that NPR does a better job of informing people than “news magazines,” it claims that regular NPR listeners are, on average, a little better informed than regular news magazine readers. But the report allows for overlap in those populations:

    It didn’t ask “where do you get all your news from?” Instead, it listed the sources and asked people whether they regularly used each. So the results shouldn’t be read to mean “If the Daily Show is the only place you go for news, you’re the most informed.”

    Wired seems to have gotten its extract from a table (search the linked report for “Which Audiences Know the Most?,” it’s next to that) that shows how many people who claimed that a particular outlet was a regular stop for them are in a “high knowledge” group.

    So the best way to summarize the table Wired provided is something like “People who listed the Daily Show or major newspaper Web sites among their regular news sources are most likely to be in the high knowledge group. People who listed network morning shows are least likely to be in the high knowledge group.”

    You anticipated conclusions the report does draw:

    As you predicted it might, the summary says that members of the high knowledge group tended to have a longer list of regular sources, and concludes “well-informed people do gravitate to particular places, but they also make use of a much wider range of news sources than do the less informed.”

    From that we can make general conclusions that stand a reasonable chance of being borne out by the data, give or take a few points, such as “regular newsblog readers aren’t as likely to regularly read a lot of different sources,” or “a regular NPR listener probably has a longer list of regular news sources than a regular CNN viewer.” Pew doesn’t offer that breakdown, though, so we can’t know for certain whether we’re right because we only have that generalization from the summary to go by.

    So, point taken and the headline should be recast: Maybe newsblogs and Fox don’t make you ignorant, but if they’re a regular part of your media diet you’re more likely to be ignorant.

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