Monday, October 31, 2011

'Outrage' more common in broadcasting than blogs or print columns: study

Incidents of "outrage" rhetoric and behavior on radio and television opinion shows are about four times as frequent as blogs and newspaper columns, according to a study published in Political Communication: “From Incivility to Outrage: Political Discourse in Blogs, Talk Radio and Cable News.”

Tufts University social scientists analyzed an ideologically diverse group of news sources to better understand the use of what they call “outrage discourse” — political speech designed to provoke audiences' emotional responses such as fear or hate.

Researchers examined 10 weeks of content from talk radio, cable "news" programs, blogs and syndicated columnists and identified 13 common forms of “outrage discourse,” including insulting language, name calling, character assassination, misrepresentative exaggeration and mockery.

While the tactics used by liberal and conservative commentators are largely the same, incidents of outrage were 50 percent more common in right-leaning media than in left-leaning media: Right-leaning content providers "scored" a 15.47 outrage incidents per case; left-leaning providers scored a 10.32.

As far as type of media, the average frequency on radio was 24, TV 23, blogs 6 and columns 6.

Blogs are relatively new, of course, but newspapers today, compared to 35 or 55 years ago, also feature "outrage" discourse more often in their syndicated columns. Measuring about 6 now, in 1975 it was 0.1, and in 1955 0.06.

The phenomenon is not just harmless entertainment, say lead researchers Sarah Sobieraj and Jeffrey Berry.

“Partisanship, as measured by the voting behavior of legislators, is up quite sharply in the past few decades,” they write in their conclusion. “It strains credulity to believe that the new and expanded ideological media has had nothing to do with this trend.”