APPC Director Kathleen Hall Jamieson, Ph.D., the Elizabeth Ware Packard Professor of Communication, and Annenberg doctoral student Jeffrey A. Gottfried published an essay, “Are there lessons for the future of news from the 2008 presidential campaign?” in the spring 2010 issue of Daedalus on The Future of News.
When news does its job, attentive citizens are better able to understand both the challenges facing the country and the competing visions of those seeking to lead it. Indeed, some argue that “the purpose of journalism is to provide people with the information they need to be free and self-governing.” In years past, those studying media have reliably found that consumers of traditional news were better informed about issues of national concern. However, the growth of a new media culture in which partisans are able to envelop themselves in like-minded content raises a question: in the world of ideologically tinged cable news, opinion-talk radio, and viral email, does news in any of its various incarnations still sift fact from fabrication and, in the process, heighten a voter’s knowledge about those aspiring to lead?
Our study of the presidential general election campaign of 2008 suggests that traditional news sources are not the custodians of fact that they once were. At the same time, sources that blend discussion of news with what we call opinion are at least occasional purveyors of unbalanced issue coverage and misinformation. In this transformed media environment, presidential debates hold up as one of the only venues, if not the sole source, that heightens citizens’ campaign knowledge. These conclusions arise from our study of how newspapers, national and local broadcast and cable news, Internet, talk radio, and debate audiences responded to questions about the central deceptions advanced by the major party candidates.