Category Archives: Political communication

President Trump does not trust news from platform companies – nor do right-wing voters

President Trump not only considers wide swaths of the US news media “enemies of the people”.

He is now also asserting without evidence that social media companies like Facebook and Twitter “silence conservative voices” and has alleged that Google search results are “rigged” and are “suppressing” Republicans and conservatives.

Trump’s attacks included some demonstrable false claims, as for example BuzzFeed News has demonstrated, including the idea that Google promoted president Obama’s State of the Union on its homepage but stopped promoting these speeches when Trump took office.

As Jason Kint, CEO of Digital Content Next, a trade association that represents online news publishers and a frequent critic of platform companies wrote after Trump’s attacks on Google, “He’s 100% wrong. He’s spreading complete BS. If he was even remotely correct, I would be the first to call it out. I have a lot of issues with Google, this isn’t one of them.”

But will his attacks resonate with conservative voters? Our Reuters Institute Digital News Report survey data suggests it might.

Not only are partisan voters likely to take cues from politicians they support. In this case, the President’s attacks also plays into widespread distrust not only of news media, but also news found via social media and search engines. (Our survey was in the field in January/February so well before Trump started publicly attacking the platform companies.)

People on the political right in the US not only have far less trust in the news media than the rest of the population.

They also trust news in social and search far less than people in the center or on the political left, as shown in the chart below.

17 percent of those on the political right say they trust most news, compared to 16 percent who say they trust news in search engines and just 8 percent who say they trust news in social media. (The latter perhaps complicating the narrative that Conservatives favor social media.)

Trump trust US

Google has denied using political viewpoints to shape its search results, and said “Search is not used to set a political agenda and we don’t bias our results toward any political ideology.” (Facebook and Twitter have not responded directly.)

But Trump’s core supporters may not believe it, or any of the other platform companies the President is now attacking. As news media have long known, it is one issue how you can try to avoid political bias. It is another whether some people think you are politically biased.

Thanks to Antonis Kalogeropoulos who helped with the chart.

 

Advertisements

Why is political communication research absent from current public+policy debates and what can be done about this absence?

I’ve written a short essay “No One Cares What We Know: Three Responses to the Irrelevance of Political Communication Research” for The Forum in Political Communication.

In it, I examine why academics working in the field of political communication research have been largely absent from recent important and high-profile public and policy debates around political-communication related issues like fake news, propaganda, and surprise election results (Trump, Brexit, Corbyn/May). I offer different ways of responding to our current irrelevance, academic purism (redoubling efforts to produce more precise and reliable work answering questions that arise from our past work), scholarly conservatism (reproducing the current mode of work), or intellectual pragmatism (reform oriented towards more context-driven, problem-focused, and interdisciplinary forms of knowledge production premised in part on engagement with the big, public issues of our time, a style like that pursued by some of the founders of our field, such as Paul Lazarsfeld). I personally favor the third, but I am interested in a debate about how we move forward as a field and as a community.

As part of the article, I also briefly sketch out different ideal typical “styles” of engagement for scholars interested in increasing the impact of their work — engagement here is not about sounding off about one’s opinions or chasing media attention for media attentions’ sake, but about thinking about what combination of strategy (inside or outside) and stance (partisan versus impartial) is worthwhile. The figure below capture the ideal types.

engagement

The full article is available here and the abstract below. A pre-publication version is here.

Abstract: Public discussions around the role of different forms of political communication in influencing various political outcomes in for example the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election and UK EU Referendum suggest that political communications research is largely marginal to these public discussions. We might think we have epistemic authority over our object of analysis, but no one cares what we know. The result is that substantially important public (and policy) discussions of issues at the core of our field are dumber than they could have been, in part due to our absence, an absence that is in turn in part due to the ways in which we as a field do our work. In this essay, I identify some of the external and internal factors that help account for this and suggest that we as a community debate whether we want to do something about our irrelevance and the internal norms and institutions that contribute to it. I offer three possible responses, labelled academic purism, scholarly conservatism, and intellectual pragmatism, and different styles of engagement, and ask whether we should aim to be a more active part of the “rough process” of public discussion, or simply leave it to others and accept that no one cares what we know.

Thanks to Michael Wagner for the invitation to write it, to Danna Young for our discussions, and to Matt Powers and Lucas Graves for their comments on an earlier draft.

Professor of Political Communication

oxford-logoI’m happy and proud to share that I’ve been named Professor of Political Communication at the University of Oxford.

Titles are strange things. Entirely immaterial (“That and a dollar will get you a cup of coffee”) and at the same time deeply meaningful. Academic work is about being part of a community of inquiry, and titles are one of the ways in which our communities recognize valuable work.

That recognition means a lot to me. I am primarily driven by my own curiosity (and occasional contrarian impulses) and my individual professional and personal priorities, all of which are so well aligned with the mission of the work we do together at the Reuters Institute. But it makes me happy to see the work I have done on that basis recognized as valuable by others.

My core interest is in the important and imperfect social and political institutions that enable democracy and make it possible for people to be citizens.

I am interested in these institutions (with warts and all)—how they arise, what their preconditions are, what their implications are, and in how they change and sometimes disintegrate. Substantially, this has led me to study political campaigns, social movements, technology companies, and especially news media in a range of ways, drawing on theories and methods from political science, sociology, and media/communications research. (My appointment is in a department of politics, but I consider myself an interdisciplinary social scientist with a particular interest in news media and communication.) Because I want in real-world variation over time and across different contexts, I have pursued a fair amount of international, comparative work on the role of digital technology as part of processes of institutional and organizational change, especially in journalism and news media–often pushing back against the tendency in some quarters and some times to assume their implications are the same everywhere.

In line with my commitment to problem-oriented social science and my ambition to make the research I am involved in speak to some of the important issues of our time, I have prioritized engagement with relevant stakeholders in political life, the public sector, and private enterprise by publishing through both academic and non-academic channels, by engaging with journalists, and by speaking frequently at both academic and professional conferences and events all over the world.

I like to say that it is important for me that I can explain the value of what I do to my mom (a more demanding version of the proverbial man on the street), the people I study (ordinary people, journalists, technologists, political professionals), and to my academic colleagues (across the social science and beyond)—and the title of professor is one of the most tangible expressions of recognition that the latter community offers, and one I particularly appreciate because I know my interest in news media, my preference for interdisciplinary work, and my commitment to problem-oriented research and public engagement set me apart from many other social scientists who have different priorities—that these colleagues see the value of what I do is very encouraging.

To receive this recognition from the University of Oxford, with its 900+ year history of excellence and truly global reach—and as its first professor of political communication—is an extraordinary privilege and an honor I will try to live up to. I know I have gotten to where I am from a privileged starting point—I am a white man from a peaceful and prosperous country—but I also feel like I have travelled a long way, from the small town in the countryside I grew up in, as the first of my family to go to college, and as a migrant working in a second language for most of my adult life.

I try to show my gratitude to all the many people who mean so much for me and who help and support me in so many ways on a regular basis, but I would like to highlight a few here. (No names, you know who you are.) My wife and my family for their unflagging support despite the strange and often unintelligible nature of much of what I do. The community of faculty and fellow graduates of Columbia University from whom I have learned so much and who remain such an inspiration. A group of contemporaries from across the academic fields I traverse who are such models of academic professionalism and personal integrity and who continue to be both close friends and a source of intellectual stimulation (including the occasional vigorous disagreement). The many impassioned professionals from across journalism, the media world, the technology industry, and politics and policymaking who find time to talk to me about their work even as they are busy trying to do often very difficult things in an uncertain and rapidly changing environment. My Oxford colleagues and friends, from across the Department of Politics and International Relations, the School of Government, the Oxford Internet Institute, and Green Templeton College. And, especially, everyone at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism itself—the staff, researchers, journalists, and others who gather here make it a truly special place and one I am proud to be part of.

(Note: I will continue to work full-time as Director of Research at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism.)

2017 International Journal of Press/Politics Book Award to Katrin Voltmer

I’m happy to anVoltmer-MediaTransDemocnounce that Katrin Voltmer (University of Leeds) is the recipient of the 2017 International Journal of Press/Politics Book Award for her book The Media in Transitional Democracies (Polity Press, 2013).

Below is the official announcement of the award from the full award committee, which included Peter van Aelst (as Chair of the ICA Political Communication Division) Henrik Örnebring (as Chair of the ICA Journalism Studies Division), and myself (as editor of the journal).

2017 International Journal of Press/Politics Book Award to Katrin Voltmer

Political communication research and journalism studies has grown more international  and transnational in recent years, but the majority of English-language academic work still tends to focus on a small number of in a global perspective very unusual high income democracies, and many of our shared theoretical, methodological, and substantial assumptions are derived from research on these countries.

Everyone recognize that this – despite the evident progressive both fields have made – limits our ability to understand political communication and journalism more broadly, as it plays out in very different political, media, and social contexts across the world.

But pushing our shared understanding in a more truly international direction has often been left to area specialists and regional studies, and have not always been tied back to core underlying concerns about the relationship between media and politics.

Katrin Voltmer’s 2013 book The Media in Transitional Democracies marks a break with these implicit and explicit biases. The award committee, which this year consisted of Peter van Aelst, Henrik Örnebring, and myself, is proud to honor it with the 2017 International Journal of Press/Politics Book Award for its truly comprehensive synthesis of comparative politics, political communication, and journalism studies research on transitional democracies from across the world. The Media in Transitional Democracies develops an original and important argument about how media and politics develop in path-dependent ways depending on previous regime types, and provides a systematic overview of existing research that covers a broad set of case countries from all over the world.

The award was instituted by the journal in 2015 to honor “internationally-oriented books that advance our theoretical and empirical understanding of the linkages between news media and politics in a globalized world in a significant way.” It is sponsored by Sage.

Books published within the last ten years are eligible for the award, and we have again had a very strong field of candidates. This is a real testament to the theoretical creativity, methodological rigor, and growing internationalization of both political communication and journalism studies research.

The award committee agreed that Katrin’s book stood out as a particularly necessary work, a relevant book on understudied important topics, a book with a truly global orientation, and a book that combines synthesis and original argumentation with nuance and a humble recognition of how much remains to be done before our shared understanding of media and politics – as well as our theoretical, methodological, and substantial assumptions about how to study it – match the global nature of our objects of analysis and the importance of what we study.

I hope you’ll join me in congratulating Katrin for writing this book. The award is simply a way for the community to recognize and highlight her contribution.

Murray Edelman Distinguished Career Award – nominations?

I’m on the American Political Science Association Political Communication Section’s award committee (together with Patricia Moy and Kevin Coe) for the Murray Edelman Distinguished Career Award, which recognizes a lifetime contribution to the study of Political Communication.

Email me if you have candidates in mind. The award will be given at APSA 2017.

Previous recipients include Gladys Lang and Kurt Lang, Elihu Katz, Michael Schudson, Lance Bennett, Jay Blumler, Russ Neuman, Diana Mutz, Dan Hallin and many others I and so many fellows scholars have learned so much from.

It’s named after Murray Edelman, an impressive and idiosyncratic figure in our field. I’m glad political communication recognize the importance of people like Edelman who do things differently. As the NYTimes noted in his obituary, “Edelman’s highly subjective analytic style put him at variance with the prevailing orthodoxy in contemporary American political science.”

“At variance” — that’s putting it mildly.Not many political scientists would begin a book the way he begun his 1971 book Politics as Symbolic Action:

Political history is largely an account of mass violence and of the expenditure of vast resources to cope with mythical fears and hopes.

For all the shortcomings (and I think there are many) of his strand of “post-modern political science” inspired by continental philosophy and older strands of symbolic interactionism, his attention to symbols, meanings, and performance is arguably as relevant today as ever, and perhaps more so than the paradigm Edelman challenged during his lifetime.

As the NYT put it: “Known as rational choice theory, this holds that political actors make rational decisions after weighing all the pros and cons. Not quite how I’d describe recent political events.

CfP: Third annual IJPP conference, Sep 27-29 in Oxford (submit by March 31)

IJPPSeptember 27-29 2017, the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford will host the third annual International Journal of Press/Politics conference, focused on academic research on the relation between media and political processes around the world. (See the program from the 2015 conference and the 2016 conference.)

A selection of the best full papers presented at the conference will be published in the journal after peer review. The deadline for submission of abstracts is March 31 2017. Attendees will be notified of acceptance by April 28 2017.

Professor Natalie Stroud from the University of Texas at Austin will deliver a keynote lecture on “Engaging Newsrooms in the Digital Age.”

The conference brings together scholars doing internationally-oriented or comparative research on the intersection between news media and politics around the world. It aims to provide a forum for academics from a wide range of different disciplines and countries to discuss the theoretical, methodological, and substantial challenges and opportunities for research in this area. It is open to work from political science, political communication, journalism studies, media and communications research and many other fields.

Examples of relevant topics include the political implications of current changes in the media, the relative importance of new forms of digital media for engaging with news and politics, studies of the role of entertainment and popular culture in how people follow current affairs, studies of relations between political actors and journalists, research on political communication beyond the electoral context (including of government, interest groups, and social movements), all with a particular interest in studies that focus on parts of the world that are under-researched in the international English language academic literature, develop comparative approaches, or represent substantial theoretical or methodological advances.

Titles and abstracts for papers (250 words max) are invited by Friday March 31 2017. The abstract should clearly describe the key question, the theoretical and methodological approach, the evidence the argument is based on, as well as its wider implication of international relevance.

Please send submissions to the email address ijpp@politics.ox.ac.uk with the subject line “IJPP conference submission” including in the email the full title of your paper, the abstract, and your name and professional affiliation. (Please do not send attachments.) Full papers will be due August 25 2017.

Please contact the conference organizer, Rasmus Kleis Nielsen (RISJ Director of Research and IJPP Editor-in-Chief) with questions at rasmus.nielsen@politics.ox.ac.uk.

More about the journal, the Reuters Institute, and the keynote speaker:

The International Journal of Press/Politics

IJPP is an interdisciplinary journal for the analysis and discussion of the role of the press and politics in a globalized world. The journal publishes theoretical and empirical research which analyzes the linkages between the news media and political processes and actors around the world, emphasizes international and comparative work, and links research in the fields of political communication and journalism studies, and the disciplines of political science and media and communication.

Keynote Speaker – Natalie Stroud

Natalie (Talia) Jomini Stroud (Ph.D., Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania) is an Associate Professor of Communication Studies and Assistant Director of Research at the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life at the University of Texas at Austin. Since 2012, Stroud has directed the grant-funded Engaging News Project, which examines commercially-viable and democratically-beneficial ways of improving online news coverage. In 2014-15, she is a fellow at the Center for the Study of Democratic Politics at Princeton University. Stroud is interested in how the media affect our political behaviors and attitudes and how our political behaviors and attitudes affect our media use. Her book, Niche News: The Politics of News Choice (Oxford University Press) explores the causes, consequences, and prevalence of partisan selective exposure, the preference for like-minded political information. Niche News received the International Communication Association’s Outstanding Book Award. Her research has appeared in Political Communication, Journal of Communication, Political Behavior, Public Opinion Quarterly, Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, and the International Journal of Public Opinion Research.

The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism

The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism marks the University of Oxford’s commitment to the comparative study of journalism around the world. Anchored in the recognition of the key role of independent media in open societies and the power of information in the modern world, the institute aims to serve as the leading forum for a productive engagement between scholars from a wide range of disciplines and practitioners of journalism. It brings the depth and rigor of academic scholarship of the highest standards to major issues of relevance to the world of news media. It is global in its perspective and in the content of its activities.

Normative Theory in Communication Research ICA pre-conference

We are at it again — with Chris Anderson, Daniel Kreiss, Dave Karpf, and Matt Powers, I’m organizing an ICA pre-conference on the role of normative theory in communication research. Conference website here. Call for papers below.

Call for Papers

Normative Theory in Communication Research Pre-conference

2017 International Communication Association Annual Conference

May 25, 2017 – 8:00am-4:30pm

Department of Communication, University of California, San Diego

https://democratictheorycommresearch.wordpress.com/

Normative theories of democracy in communication research across its various subfields rarely receive explicit treatment. Often, researchers simply imply their normative standpoints through the research questions they ask about ‘participation,’ ‘civility,’ ‘two-sided information flows,’ ‘knowledgeable citizens,’ ‘rational debate and deliberation,’ ‘polarization and partisanship,’ ‘interactivity,’ and ‘quality information.’

The normative implications of many of these concepts rest on implicit assumptions about democracy, how it works, and more importantly, how it should work. When communication scholars explicitly discuss their normative models of democracy, they tend to be deliberative, following the guiding theorist of the field, Jurgen Habermas, and rich veins of deliberative research work by scholars such as James Fishkin. More common, however, is research that implicitly holds up rational debate among disinterested, non-partisan citizens premised on quality information as the normative ideal. Meanwhile, when scholars do not explicitly embrace deliberation, they tend to hold up an ill-defined, procedural idea of participation as the ultimate democratic value, often without any consideration of the ends towards which it is directed.

While deliberative theory and vague ideas of participation continue to hold significant appeal in communication research, are they the only models?  And, indeed, should they be? In the past two decades there has been a tremendous flowering of normative work in other fields that casts new light on democracy itself.  Social movement scholars have argued forcefully for the importance of contentious politics, emotion, identity, and culture to the practice and promise of democracy. Sociologists have argued that ‘civility’ often serves to cut-off critique and frankness should be valued as an alternative. Political theorists have embraced the normative importance of spectatorship in contrast to deliberation and participation, invoking communication research around media events. Others have worked to reclaim the value of partisanship in an era of extremist, single-issue civil society organizations. Meanwhile, some scholars have sought to re-establish the value of representation, while others have argued strongly for the value of agonism as the proper domain of the political.

With few exceptions, communication research has not explicitly engaged with its underlying normative models of democracy. In this pre-conference, we seek to bring communication scholars together to spark a conversation on the normative foundations of scholarship and move the field towards more sophisticated models of democracy. Through invited speakers, peer-reviewed papers, and critical discussants, we seek to make democracy and normative theories our object of analysis.

Confirmed participants include Cherian George (Hong Kong Baptist University), Claes de Vreese (University of Amsterdam), Michael Schudson (Columbia University), Jennifer Stromer-Galley (Syracuse University), Talia Stroud (UT Austin), Silvio Waisbord (George Washington University), and Barbie Zelizer (University of Pennsylvania).

Call for Extended Abstracts

We are looking for submissions that interrogate the democratic foundations of communication research across its various subfields. These can include articles on the history of normative models of democracy in the field, original theoretical papers that propose democratic frameworks or synthesize work in adjacent fields, or empirical papers that made a significant theoretical contribution to democratic theory in the field of communication.

Extended abstracts (up to 4,000 characters including spaces) should be submitted via the Normative Theory in Communication Research website by January 15, 2017.

The organizers – C.W. Anderson (CUNY), David Karpf (George Washington University), Daniel Kreiss (UNC-Chapel Hill), Rasmus Nielsen (Oxford University), and Matthew Powers (University of Washington) – will make decisions on accepted papers by February 15th. Full papers will be due in advance of the pre-conference on May 25, 2017.

There is no cost to attend this pre-conference and lunch and refreshments will be provided. Registration is required.

Sponsors

Department of Communication, University of Washington

Department of Media Culture, CUNY-CSI

Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, University of Oxford

School of Media and Journalism, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

School of Media and Public Affairs, George Washington University

ICA Communication and Technology Division

ICA Journalism Studies Division

ICA Political Communication Division

Draft Schedule

8:00 – 8:15am

Arrival and coffee

8:15 – 9:30am

PANEL 1: Reviewed Submissions, Paper Presentations

9:45 – 11:00am

PANEL 2: Reviewed submissions, Paper Presentations

11:15 – 12:30pm

PANEL 3: Reviewed Submissions, Paper Presentations

12:45-1:45pm

Lunchtime Journal Editors Panel on the Role of Normative Theory in Research

2:00 – 3:15pm

PANEL 4: Reviewed Submissions, Paper Presentations

3:30-4:30pm

Plenary Panel on Democratic Theory in Communication Research