News Sources: Viewer Knowledge

The Pew Research Center

What Americans Know: 1989-2007

I only glanced at this article on poll data, but it is quite interesting.  The Daily Show and the The Colbert Report are at the top ranking of informed viewers (along with the major newspaper websites).  The Fox News Channel is at the very bottom keeping company with the Network morning shows, but the O’Reilly factor is above average.  O’Reilly Factor looks like a haven for intelligent people on Fox News and is at the same level as NPR.

What interests me most is that this justifies a recent comment I made.  I was explaining my criticisms of Glenn Beck’s criticisms about the mainstream media he is a part of.  I said that Comedy Central represents me more than all of the tv news combined.  As I’m a proponent of being well informed, I would seem to be correct in my faith in Colbert and Stewart.

One criticism of this poll is that it seems to be testing people on factoids rather than on comprehension and insight. Being informed about factoids doesn’t mean someone is able to think critically about the issues and come to an objective conclusion.  For example, NPR has a format where they spend lengthy periods of time doing in-depth interviews about specific issues.  Also, NPR spends a lot of time on human interest stories which does inform the listener about other perspectives which I think is important, but this kind of knowledge wasn’t in the poll.  Plus, NPR is more including a mix with entertainment and fiction author interviews.  That isn’t exactly comparable to the O’Reilly factor.

Also, I want to know where the viewers were informed.  For example, viewers of The Daily Show are highly informed and they get a fair amount of info from the show, but I imagine they tend to be a demographic that seeks many other sources of news.  There is a difference between a viewer who actively seeks out knowledge to inform themselves and the viewer who more passively absorbs all of their info from a more limited number of sources.  The ability to spit back factoids does not intelligence make.

I want to know how the different viewers interpret the data.  A viewer may be well-informed, but either repeats the interpretation of the news reporter/commenter or else has a highly biased understanding.  Which set of viewers had the widest understanding by considering multiple perspectives?  Which set of viewers was best at manipulating the data to rationalize their preconceived beliefs?



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