My research focuses on understanding audience perceptions of news media. The following is not an exhaustive list of my current projects, but these studies illustrate the three main arms of my ongoing research.
The biased gatekeepers?
Journalists choose where to direct the spotlight – a function of the press referred to as “gatekeeping.” Part of my research looks at whether audiences sense a bias in what news media pay attention to, and what media ignore.
Perceived Hostile Media Volume in the 2016 Democratic Primary. This project considers that, in the context of a primary race, supporters of a candidate would prefer that media pay attention to their candidate. Using a survey of young voters in the days before the Wisconsin primary, I demonstrate that favorable views of a candidate were negatively associated with estimates of how much media attention that candidate had received. Results show that a candidate’s supporters, compared to nonsupporters, had more pessimistic estimates of their candidate’s share of media attention. In other words, voters who liked a particular candidate tended to believe that candidate got a smaller slice of the media spotlight. Results also showed that believing a candidate got less media attention was associated with a belief that the public was less familiar with the candidate. Voters thought media attention was undesirably biased against their candidate, and they believed that bias contributed to the public’s lack of knowledge about their candidate. This manuscript has been revised and resubmitted to [journal].
That’s Not How the Story Goes: Audience Perceptions of Election News Narratives. This project looks at perceptions of news attention in the general election, where it isn’t necessarily advantageous to received a greater share of news coverage. A survey conducted six weeks before the 2016 election gauges the differences between how Hillary Clinton supporters and Donald Trump supporters viewed the allocation of news attention to various election narratives. A candidate’s supporters believed media paid more attention to various negative narratives about their candidate, compared to how nonsupporters judged media attention to those narratives. Both Trump and Clinton supporters believed media failed to direct attention to the issues and stories that mattered most to them, and they believed that the media’s errors in gatekeeping left the public underprepared and misinformed. This research was funded with a grant from the Mass Communication and Society division of AEJMC. It is currently being prepped for journal submission.
Perceiving a Media Conspiracy. This project explores how the public perceives the motives of journalists in terms of what they cover and what they ignore. Along with two colleagues, I used a survey of U.S. adults in the days before the 2016 presidential election to explore the extent to which voters believed journalists were intentionally attempting to interfere in the election outcome through their editorial decisions. There were important differences between those planning to vote for Hillary Clinton and those planning to vote for Donald Trump, but both groups showed signs of conspiratorial thinking when it comes to mass media. Dat have been collected and this manuscript is being prepped for journal submission.
Seeing media through different eyes
The media landscape can look rather different depending on where you’re standing. Through my research, I aim to look at news media from the perspectives of folks with very different views.
Perceived Bias in News Coverage of Science and Religion. This experimental study explores how beliefs about science and religion influence perceptions of bias in news coverage about the relationship between science and religion. Consistent with research on the hostile media perception, we find that those with strong preferences for either science or religion perceive news coverage about the issue as biased against them, even as the story frame changes to emphasize either the conflict or compatibility between the two world views. We conclude that the tendency to perceive hostile bias in the news overcomes framing techniques that attempt to tame those faulty perceptions. This manuscript was presented at ICA (2015) and is currently being prepped for journal submission.
News Media, Perceptions of Public Opinion, and Same-sex Marriage. This study explores how adults living in four major U.S. cities believe news media influenced their community’s opinion about same-sex marriage. We find evidence of the persuasive press inference, which is the idea that when people believe the news slants in a certain direction, they believe others have been influenced by that slant. Both opponents and supporters of same-sex marriage demonstrated a belief that their communities had been influenced by media coverage of same-sex marriage. Ultimately, respondents across the four cities tended to underestimate support within their own communities. This manuscript has been revised and resubmitted to [journal].
Partisans and Perceptions of Polls. This experimental study explores how political partisans evaluate news reports of poll results. In particular, my colleagues and I were interested in understanding how political partisans would expect polls to influence voters in several 2016 battleground states. Data have been collected and this manuscript is currently being drafted for submission to a communication conference.
Processing mass media
Another arm of my research focuses on gaining a better understanding of the mechanisms behind perceptions of media. When people judge mass mediated messages, they do not necessarily use the same processing strategies used when processing other types of information. Part of my research in this area makes use of newer technology, such as psychophysiology measures, to better understand what is happening as people encounter and judge media messages.
The Monolithic Media. There is a tendency amongst the public, and even among academics, to lump “media” into a single entity. This strategy of boiling a diverse group into a manageable construct is natural – heuristics help us navigate a complex world – but forms the basis of stereotyping. In this project, I am examining “media” as a stereotype. What do people think of what they render a judgment about media in a general sense? Can people differentiate between various types of news? What does the news schema look like for most folks – and are there systematic variations in how different groups conceptualize media? I recently received a Journal Foundation grant to fund this experimental survey and will field data from a nationally representative sample in March, 2017.
The Physiology of Processing Mass Media. This lab experiment replicates early research on the hostile media perception: Participants are assigned to watch the same video story that is packaged either as a TV news story or a student project. By measuring heart rate and skin conductance during the viewing, I find that there are physiological differences between those processing a mass media message and those processing a student project. I strive to use multiple message-designs in my research, and will be repeating the experiment with a different video topic in February, 2017.
Personality and Perceptions of Media. This survey of U.S. adults explores the association between perceptions of news media and the Big 5 personality traits. I worked with two colleagues to collect data in October, 2016 and the manuscript is currently being prepared for submission to a communication conference.