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hello 2011

Better late than never, time for a new post. Things have been hectic since we last spoke: work, holidays, job searching, etc. Time enough today for a couple quick updates.

1. New publication! Information, Communication, and Society has published an article that I wrote about local political information availability on the WWW. The concept of the article, Local Political Information on the Web, is basically: since newspapers and other traditional sources of local news are struggling, maybe we should start studying what local political information (LPI) citizens can find on the internet. What LPI, in a very basic way, is available online, and, is the relevant content on the internet wholly dependent upon ‘old’ media? The novel component of my article is the sampling approach. Instead of taking a purposive sample of websites, I used a little computer program to systematically search for local information on Google over a couple 6-week periods & then used the search results to create a corpus for content analysis. The idea behind this approach is that you get an unvarnished and inclusive window into what information is really out there for people to find on the web. Glad the article is out; take a look if you’re interested.

2. I’ve got a new paper that I’m working on & that I’m excited about. In a nutshell, I’m interested in exploring what effect the closure of a newspaper has upon its former community. Since the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Denver’s Rocky Mountain News, and Cincinatti Post all went under in the past few years, there are some legitimate real-world examples to study. One nifty paper from Princeton researchers looked at some effects in Cincinatti a couple years ago, but I don’t know of other academic works that have studied these communities or other similar instances. (If you know of something relevant, please let me know – I haven’t done an extensive literature search yet.) Anyways, I’ve got some data that I am using to show some before/after effects & I’m very excited, almost surprised, at what I’m finding.

More to come soon… Happy belated new year!

unfinished business…almost finished

A mere five months ago, I posted a little write-up of a project that I’d been working on that examined citizen’s political competence. Rather than basing my assessment of competence on just the public’s national political knowledge, my perspective is that competence is a broad & complicated matter that should be assessed at least in terms of both local and national political knowledge. This seems fairly intuitive but, even though the scholarly debate about citizen competence has ebbed along for more than 50 years, there are very few examples of scholars taking this encompassing approach.

The general gist of the article is that, to some extent, different people are knowledgeable about local and national affairs. This means that some people (women, minorities) that are often seen as less competent when only national political matters are considered, should be seen as relatively more competent when both national and local matters are evaluated. Further, this provides evidence that the public is somewhat specialized in its political interests. This implies that not everyone will know everything about national (or local) affairs, but that there are people out there who are informed about either (and sometimes both). In other words, maybe the public is a little more competent than generally believed. That, in a nutshell, is my optimistic spin… At any rate, after finishing a draft & then batting it back and forth with several people who were nice enough to give me feedback, I finally submitted a version for publication last week. Check back for updates in the future…

in november, root for the home team…

Over the weekend, a friend mentioned that she’d read a blurb about politics and sports that she thought I might be interested in. I got ahold of some news coverage of the study in question, and the short synopsis is that voters are more inclined to support incumbents when their local college sports team has recently won a game. The research comes out of Stanford (my quick look online isn’t turning up the actual article) and seems to be pretty carefully done: it pairs a natural experiment with a large (N=3000) survey & in both cases the ‘afterglow’ effect is present.

Study 1:

So Malhotra and his colleagues tallied up the wins and losses of 62 Division I college football teams from 1964 through 2008 and found how voters in each team’s home county behaved. A local football team’s win in the 10 days before an election garnered the incumbent senator, governor or president (or his or her political party) an extra 1.61 percentage points of the vote, the researchers found. They found no effect for games played earlier than two weeks before the election, suggesting that the game must be fresh in the voter’s mind to have an effect.


Study 2:

In a second analysis, researchers surveyed over 3,000 people at three times during the 2009 NCAA college basketball tournament. Respondents were asked to name their favorite team and then were asked to rate the performance of President Obama. On average, people whose favorite teams had just won a March Madness game rated the president 2.3 percentage points higher than did those whose teams had recently lost.


Studies like this are fascinating because they show how fickle the public can be en masse. Clearly, the effects that Malhotra & co. found are only in the 1-3% range, but elections have obviously been decided by less. If you’re a Democrat, you should be hoping that the college football teams in swing states sweep their games come November…


back in the saddle

The end of summer is either quickly approaching or has already passed, which means that it’s time to leave the great outdoors and get back to work. So, a few quick updates to ease back into the blog…

1. Good news! According to the AP Stylebook, we can all finally be comfortable and correct when we “website” and not “Web site.” Read all about the change here. As the article notes, perhaps one day we’ll live in a world that accepts ’email’ and ‘internet’ as the proper terminology. Until then, at least one minor victory has been secured. Wonder how long my suite of Microsoft products will take before integrating the new spelling…

2. In other, also good, news, the Journal of Communication has just released an article I co-wrote long ago, in a land far, far away (Philadelphia). The article looks at news coverage of Hurricane Katrina & the ways in which different pictures can alter the audience’s understanding of major events like Katrina. This article is nothing if not timely…Well, at least it was released in conjunction with the 5th anniversary of Katrina and the screening of Spike Lee’s If God is Willing and da Creek Don’t Rise, right?

3. For those who are interested, another article that I co-wrote has also been accepted and published online, in advance of its release in Political Behavior. This article looks at another experiment in which the effects of a sexual scandal upon a white presidential candidate (John Edwards, in this case) and a black presidential candidate (Barack Obama) were assessed. The general idea is that the black candidate will (and does) suffer more because the sexual scandal cues other underlying, negative stereotypes associated with black people. You can sneak a peek at the article here. Hats off to Political Behavior for having online advance publication so that this article can be in the wild before Obama’s already been re-elected – definitely makes sense in this age of “websites.”

a scientific conceit…and the news

A new post that I wrote just went up over at Next American City. The post – which is about a pair of different attempts at building the news organization for the 21st century – grew out of reading a couple pieces in the Atlantic that came at the topic from very different starting points. One is a top-down approach to save big news, the other a grassroots effort to build new feisty news-of-the-people online start-ups. Yet, at their core, they both have a single central problem: in a world of unlimited media choice, you have to prove your worth to win an audience. (Big news has a second problem too: billions upon billions of dollars in debt & dead weight.) At any rate, the full piece is available here. Watch out for hamfisted literary devices…

PS. I should point out that my friend Cate originally sent me the link to the Atlantic blog post detailed my little article. Thanks!

can google save the news?

In my post-Memorial Day malaise, I just got around to reading the current Atlantic cover story on Google & the future of journalism. Having seen dozens of similar articles over the past few years, I’m a little jaded about this sort of Eeyore news navel-gazing. That said, I found this particular article to be pretty well done. James Fallows gives an unusually clear and concise explanation of the news industry’s woes and it is clear that the folks at Google are actually thinking hard & bringing a new perspective to helping news organizations migrate to the digital future. Of course, I’ve got some opinions of my own – though maybe they should be taken with a grain of salt since I read the online version of the article for free instead of buying the magazine when I saw it at Suburban Station? The article itself is quite long (who has time to read the news?), so click through for some highlights…. Read more ›

local politics & citizen competence

I haven’t had too much time to blog lately. Instead, I’ve been trying to complete a draft of a new paper that examines citizen competence. Citizen competence – which scholars study as a way of understanding whether (or perhaps to what extent) citizens are capable of contributing meaningfully to their democratic governance – is normally ascertained within the context of national politics. My paper tries to gain some leverage on how the scholarly understanding of citizen competence might look if citizens’ interactions with local as well as national politics are factored into the equation.

Without bogging down in details, past citizen competence research has two overarching conclusions: 1. Most citizens aren’t very competent – at least in any way political scientists have managed to measure competence. 2. The citizens that seem most competent are usually white, wealthy, educated, older men. My findings from local-level data suggest that, if we take a holistic view of citizen competence and include both local and national activity, the population as a whole may not be as adroit as we’d like, but the picture of the competent citizen shifts. (My approach is to study the level and distribution of political knowledge, as determined from a randomized survey of 1000 Philadelphians.)

First, women and minorities close the knowledge gap with whites and men such that the groups are nearly equally matched. This shift is driven by movement at both ends of the spectrum: whites/men know less about local politics than national politics while minorities/women know more about local politics than national politics. Second, socioeconomic indicators – wealth and education levels – that are relentlessly & positively correlated with national knowledge aren’t so clearly matched with local political knowledge. A pair of figures illustrate this very well: Read more ›

long time, no post

Just a couple quick thoughts on a spring afternoon…

Last week, I was watching the Phillies wallop the Nationals & I had a brief moment of clarity regarding media effects. For decades, communication researchers have worked to clearly and definitively capture and depict the effects of media exposure. It turns out this can be very hard, especially when scholars try to prove real-world effects that go beyond controlled, laboratory environments. Do kids really benefit from watching Sesame Street, or are the kids that watch Sesame Street just being raised in homes that would otherwise cultivate language skills, sharing, and so on? Do people buy Budweiser because of the funny commercials, or do they like cheap, well-made beer? Etc…

Trying to answer questions like these is hard enough, but when the topic of concern is controversial it becomes even more challenging to show media effects. Take, for example, the case study of mediated violence: Does consumption of media that depicts violent acts contribute to violent behavior? For decades, scholars have studied this question as it relates to TV, film, and more recently video games. Generally speaking, the academic consensus is: yes. (There are occasional voices of dissent.) Meanwhile, media producers stridently deny any responsibility for the content of their programs. Media, they say, reflects and does not effect society. This, to me, has always seemed like a flimsy & convenient response. The public isn’t comprised of lemmings, but…watching thousands and thousands of acts of dramatized violence doesn’t seem to have any possible positive outcome to me. Anyways, after watching that Phillies game, I have one question for these media producers: If the public isn’t affected by media content, why are streakers so carefully excised from sports broadcasts?

On another, perhaps slightly more sober note, I had the somewhat bizarre pleasure of writing direct quotes from myself in a press release out today from the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication. The folks at AEJMC selected the article, Citizens’ Local Political Knowledge and the Role of Media Access, that I contributed to the current issue of Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly for a project that publicizes academic research to the media (and, hopefully, general public). As a bonus, the whole article is made available online for free. Check it out…

NAC post: saving local news with thin air


A couple weeks ago, I was reveling in free over-the-air Olympic coverage. Crystal clear picture & sound for the low, low price of $0 a month. Fantastic. The weird thing is, after decades of watching crappy broadcast TV, Americans suddenly have great, free HD – and nobody uses it. And now that the Olympics are over, neither do I. Whether you realize it or not, this is incredibly wasteful. Air, or radio wave spectrum, is quite valuable. So, I wrote a little article for Next American City about how I think our air should be reclaimed. Check it out and, you know, write a letter to your congressman or the FCC. Or leave me a comment. Whatever is easiest…

snow days

As yet another snowstorm buffets the east coast, I thought I’d squeeze in a little post to freshen up things around here…I should get a little slack for all the snow, right? Are there blogging snow days?

First, and speaking of snow, this image (and the post it leads to) was forwarded to me last week since I’m a media geek. Turns out nobody cares enough about the Washington Post to bother digging it out from a snowdrift. The free rag? Totally different story. I feel like I’ve made this point before, less succintly, about the Metro and other similar publications. This image sure drives it home…

Second, this seems like a good opportunity to toot my own horn a little. Any day now, an article that I wrote about the effects of increasing media choice upon local & national political knowledge will be released in the new issue of Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly. It’s a great journal – despite its frustratingly limited presence on the web – and I’m excited to have the article printed. I’ve never been so happy to give away the product of (literally) hundreds of hours of my work… A sneak preview of the piece can be found here. If you’re interested, the main finding is that simply having more media access – to things like cable TV or satellite radio – correlates with having less local political knowledge, even after controlling for various other factors. Kinda scary given the modern media world we live in… Happy shoveling – or, if you’re somewhere sans snow – happy gloating.