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Article

Mira Sotirovic

Journalism defined itself as a profession in opposition to sensationalism and propaganda at the beginning of the 20th century. The American Society of News Editors statement of principles was written to codify “sound practice and just aspirations” of journalism after the public learned how the press was complicit in misinforming and deceiving the American people during World War I. As part of a massive propaganda campaign to win support for the war, the government fed false information and misleading stories to the press to make the public see the war as they desired it to be seen. Most definitions of propaganda converge toward the idea of organized influence on group attitudes through manipulation of symbols for a desired purpose of propagandist. The ASNE 1923 statement of principles clearly differentiated journalism from propaganda by its processes (to inform and scrutinize) and its purpose (to hold power accountable). However, many times since then the news media have been often accused of unintentionally becoming one of the most effective vehicles of political propaganda. Journalism’s proximity to the political world, and at the same time its obligation to bring independent and impartial scrutiny to that world, creates a set of contradictions and opens cracks where propaganda can get a foothold. In the political world, truth is to a large degree subjective and irreducible to facts. Journalistic practices that equate truth to a collection of facts, without questioning of why these particular facts are chosen and how they are presented, introduce various biases that amount to propaganda. Subtle suggestions based on facts, and faulty interpretations that do not follow from facts make propaganda truly dangerous because it is hidden behind ideologies of a free and objective press. With the growing mastery of media technology, propaganda is becoming an even more formidable force, perhaps easier to detect but more difficult to combat.

Article

Bruce W. Hardy

The relationship between public opinion and journalism has long been a considered a cornerstone of modern functioning democracies. This important relationship has been the focus of scholarship across broad disciplines such as journalism studies, communication, sociology, philosophy, and political science. One hundred and twenty years ago, French sociologist Gabrielle Tarde outlined the press–conversation–opinion–action model to illustrate the role that the press and journalists have on initiating conversation among citizens, forming public opinion, and how this opinion translates into civic action that fosters social change. Highly related to Tarde’s press–conversation–opinion–action model are current theories of journalism and public opinion such as agenda-setting, priming, the two-step flow hypothesis, diffusion of innovation, and the spiral of silence. All of these theories relate to how the press can inform citizens, foster interactions with others, shape their opinions, and mobilize citizens into civic engagement and political action. However, in today’s mobile, digital, and highly segmented communication landscape defined by “post-truth” and “alternative facts” and where emotions resonate more than evidence because of audience biases and identity protective cognition, the problem of the spread of misinformation has caused a great deal of consternation among journalists, pundits, and public opinion scholars, leading to a global rise in fact-checking. But because much of the misleading and deceptive claims in today’s communication environment appear first on social media, there is currently a fervent quest for automated computational fact-checking.