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Media has shifted from fact-based reporting, now embraces advocacy and 'emotional appeals,' study finds

Report confirms exactly what many have observed

Mario Tama/Getty Images

With the advent of cable news networks and digital media outlets, American journalism has shifted away from fact-based, objective reporting to subjective advocacy, a new study from the RAND corporation discovered.

What are the details?

The study analyzed 15 news outlets across print journalism, cable TV, and the internet. It conclusively found that over the last 28 years, between 1989 and 2017, "news content has generally shifted from more-objective event- and context-based reporting to reporting that is more subjective, relies more heavily on argumentation and advocacy, and includes more emotional appeals."

The outlets included in the study are:

  • Print: New York Times, Washington Post, St. Louis Dispatch
  • Broadcast: CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC
  • Digital: TheBlaze, Politico, Breitbart News, HuffPost, The Daily Caller, BuzzFeed Politics

"Our research provides quantitative evidence for what we all can see in the media landscape: Journalism in the U.S. has become more subjective and consists less of the detailed event- or context-based reporting that used to characterize news coverage," said Jennifer Kavanaugh, political scientist and lead author of the report.

Print journalism made only modest shifts, the study found, while broadcast news made "stronger shifts to advocacy."

Digital news is perhaps the biggest offender. The study concluded that "online journalism features a subjective kind of advocacy" that "narrat[es] key social and policy issues through very personal frames and subjective references."

Why is this important?

Aside from highlighting the obvious "truth decay" — the phrase RAND uses to describe "the diminishing role of facts and analysis in political discourse" — the study provides insight that will help consumers choose what news to consume.

"Changes in news presentation identified in this report are relevant to individual news consumer decisions about which media organizations to use and which to trust; trends toward subjective journalism might reduce that trust," the report said.

One last thing…
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