Broadcast Media and Partisanship: Side of Spin with Your Nightly News

Show Notes, Sources and Transcript

July 31, 2020

What the heck happened to broadcast news in recent decades?

That is the burning question we ask of Dr. Dominik Stecula, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Colorado State University and expert on broadcast media trends in the US over the past fives decades. Dr. Stecula contrasts the more fact-based, consolidated and regulated broadcast news industry of the 1970’s and 80’s with the highly fragmented, largely partisan news environment of today. 

And what’s an independent-minded American to do for objective news content these days? Tune into this bonus episode (Ep 5) for insights on these and other polarizing elements in US politics, society and just plain daily life. 

Guests

Dominik Stecula Assistant Professor of Political Science, Colorado State University

Original music composed by Ryan Adair Rooney.

Electronic Sources

Hadas Gold (7/10/17) “Sinclair increases ‘must-run’ Boris Epshteyn segments.” Politico

Kylah J. Hedding, et. al. (2019) The Sinclair Effect: Comparing Ownership Influences on Bias in Local TV News Content, Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 63:3, 474-493. 

Eitan Hersh (2020). Politics is for Power: How to Move Beyond Political Hobbyism, Take Action, and Make Real Change. Simon & Schuster. 

Thomas B. Ksiazek (2019). Fragmentation of News Audience. The International Encyclopedia of Journalism Studies

Indira A.R. Lakshmanan (8/22/18). “Finally, some good news: Trust in news is up, especially for local media.” Poynter

Kevin Lerner (6/22/20). “Journalists know news and opinion are separate, but readers often can’t tell the difference.” Nieman Lab. 

Stephen Macedo (4/6/17) “Polarization and the Media.” Princeton Alumni Quarterly

Amy Mitchell et. al. (6/18/18). “Distinguishing between Factual and Opinion Statements in the News.” Pew Research Center

“State of Public Trust in Local News” (2019). The Knight Foundation. 

Dominik Stecula

James G. Webster (2005). Beneath the Veneer of Fragmentation: Television Audience Polarization in a Multichannel World. Journal of Communication. 

Transcript

Robert Pease (narrator) (00:02):

Are you concerned about the perils of polarization?  Then you’ve come to the right podcast. This is A Bit of Purple, an bonus episode from The Purple Principle.  I’m Robert Pease, creator and producer of the podcast. Our guest today is Dr. Dominic Stecula, an expert on political science and media at Colorado State University. Our topic is broadcast journalism, which 40 years ago may have been less entertaining, but, on balance, more fact-based, objective, and informative. 

Audio Collage (archival) (00:35)

Robert Pease (narrator)

Unless you’ve been living in a cave without cable, you’ve noticed that broadcast journalism has changed.

Audio Collage (archival) (01:04)

Robert Pease (narrator) (01:15):

What the heck happened? We posed this question to Dr. Stecula, who pursued his postdoctoral research on this topic at the Annenberg School of Communications. 

Dominik Stecula:

I think what contributed to this process has been definitely the fact that all news just got a lot more political and a lot more partisan. What happened is that back in the late seventies, early eighties, if you were following the news, roughly a third of the time you would encounter something like a reference to a politician or a quote from a politician. So roughly one in three stories. Now fast forward to the mid-nineties, we’re now at 56%. The majority of content is now partisan. Fast forward to 2016. Now it’s two thirds, at 67%. So now, essentially it’s not just people who are in the echo chambers who are exposed to hyper-partisanship – it’s everybody that even residually follows the news.

And you know, that turns off a lot of people, especially pure independents who get turned off by politics. 

Robert Pease (narrator):

Dr. Stecula, an expert on news and media consumption, has paid close attention to how audience responses evolve along with this changing media landscape 

Dominik Stecula:

Back in the sixties and seventies, if you had the television on in the evening, it was on one of the three channels and the news was on. And regardless of which of the three channels you watched, you were more or less served the same content. So everybody was more or less on the same page. Now you have a lot of outlets out there and there’s fierce competition. And the news audiences have fragmented quite a bit.1

Robert Pease (narrator) (03:09):

And the easiest, most economical way to attract audiences is to make news less fact-based, more emotional, and more entertaining. 

Dominik Stecula:

There’s this political scientist, Eitan Hersh who has this concept of “political hobbyism”, where people engage with politics as they do with sports.2 It’s just a shallow pursuit of entertainment and gratification. And I think a lot of partisans are like that. And a lot of independents, on the other hand, get turned off by this. 

Robert Pease (narrator):

Over this same period when national cable  became more partisan and entertainment driven, local news sources have either declined or consolidated.

Dominik Stecula 07:07:

If you look at trust in the news, it’s been decreasing since the 70s, but trust in local news has been much higher than trust in national news.3 When the sources that people trust at relatively higher levels – the national sources – do disappear, that’s problematic. Another problematic development has been that a lot of local news stations have been bought up by the Sinclair group. Sinclair has been running essentially as a partisan operation.4 Boris Epshteyn had a “must run” commentary on a lot of these stations.5 So there was effectively no difference between something like Fox news, like a Hannity segment or a Tucker Carlson segment. So when there was this kind of hardcore partisan content masquerading as local news, that’s not particularly good either. 

Robert Pease (narrator)

So where can an independent-minded audience find nonpartisan fact-based news these days? 

Dominik Stecula:

You know, most people don’t really think very hard about these distinctions. And I think there’s just been a lot of news that has been sounding more like opinion. There’s been a proliferation of opinion content,6 Even if there was some benevolent billionaire who was funding a news outlet, I have a hard time imagining that surviving in the long term. 

Robert Pease (narrator)

This has been A Bit of Purple with today’s guest, Dr. Dominik Stecula, Associate Professor of Political Science at Colorado State University and an expert on American broadcast media. 

The Purple Principle is a podcast about the perils  of partisanship in media, politics, society, and everyday life. This is Robert Pease for The Purple Principle team, with original music by Ryan Adair Rooney. Look for full episodes on your favorite streaming service. Please share us on social media, and for more info visit purpleprinciple.com.

1994
2017

In 1986, 34 Democratic and 29 Republican Senators signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act, creating a citizenship path for illegal immigrants while making it a Federal crime to employ illegal workers. The House also voted in favor, 238 to 173. The bill was signed into law on November 6, 1986. 

congress.gov

In 1972, 17 Republican Senators joined 35 Democratic Senators to override the Nixon Administration veto of the Clean Water Act, a landmark piece of environmental legislation. The House override vote was 247 to 23, including 96 Republicans and 151 Democrats in the majority.

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