Sungkyunkwan University (PDF) | Politico | TechCrunch
Minha Kim of Sungkyunkwan University in Seoul set out to study “whether or not objective reporting actually inhibits political participation.” Seventy students taking a course in newswriting were divided into two groups. Half were given a “straight news” article about a 2008 controversy in Korea — the country’s importation of beef from the U.S. despite consumer protests that it wasn’t safe — and half were given an opinionated one.
The students who were politically knowledgeable “were immune to the agitating voice” of the opinionated article, Kim found. But nonobjective stories “exerted profound persuasive impact” on those who were not “sufficiently politically equipped to guide their judgments and actions by self-organized mature knowledge.” Those students were far more likely to attend a protest against the government importing American beef.
In addition, Kim found that the type of media that students consumed influenced their actions.
Traditional media such as newspapers and television did not significantly influence the subjects’ attitude toward the protest. It was the Internet and interpersonal communication that resulted in the subjects’ criticism of the Korean government policy to import U.S. beef. The more frequently subjects used the Internet, the more positive they were toward the protest.
If you accept that discussing political issues is an adequate measure of political engagement, then opinionated journalism was more influential for those who weren’t engaged. More-knowledgeable consumers valued fact-based reporting, whether they decided to go to the protest or not.
For the group of subjects that had a lower level of conversation with others, news messages reinforcing the negative attitude toward U.S. beef imports and encouraging participation in the candlelight vigil led the subjects to decide in favor of protest participation. Subjects in the group exposed to the objective article tended to decide not to participate in the protest. In contrast, those with a higher level of conversation were more likely to be influenced by the objective article when forming an attitude favoring participation in the candlelight vigil. These subjects were not persuaded by the subjective article that presented an outraged opinion against the government decision and incited protest participation.
So what does this suggest for media stateside? Politico’s Dylan Byers writes that “any application to U.S. politics should be made cautiously.” But it does suggest, as Gregory Ferenstein writes in TechCrunch, that “traditional journalism still does have a vital role to play for readers who are knowledgeable and politically engaged, a relatively smaller portion of the electorate.”
Of course, if you want to reach a bigger audience — those less-informed — you need to inject as much opinion into your work as possible. (That’s just my opinion.)