In a “news without labels” experiment, Gallup and the Knight Foundation partnered to create an experimental news platform to research audience views on the trustworthiness of media content and study reader bias.
Why it matters:
Gallup survey data indicates that Americans are increasingly distrustful about the potentially biased news. But this experiment shows that they should also worry about the partiality of their own judgment.
How it works:
Bias is notoriously difficult to measure, and most scientists agree that blind review is the best way to test it. The Gallup/Knight experiment pulled news stories from diverse media outlets and invited a random sample of 3,081 Americans to rate the trustworthiness of the content.
Half of the participants were allowed to see the source of the news they were rating, while the other half was not allowed to view the source. The results showed that the group reading the articles “blind,” without knowing the source, were significantly more trusting of the content.
This was attributed to the fact that brand prejudice was removed from the participants reading without source identification; for example, attributing Fox News content as conservative and New York Times content as left-leaning.
This study brings to light several key learnings about the way Americans consume media and trust or distrust it:
- 35% of the readers in the study exhibited a large bias, with their trust rating deviating by a larger percentage when they knew the source of the content.
- Those with more extreme political views tend to provide more biased ratings of news.
- Those with the strongest distrust of the news media provide the most biased ratings, 47% of the time.
- The bias consumers bring with them distorts their rating of news content, and those who are most distrustful of the news media tend to be the most biased readers.
- People are at greater risk of bias if they habitually turn to more extreme sources for news.
The bottom line:
While many Americans continue to exhibit mistrust of the media, this experimental study suggests that they may, in fact, the reading news with their own biased perceptions.
One interpretation of these findings is that certain outlets create bias, perhaps by offering lower-quality content; though it is just as plausible that more biased consumers gravitate toward the same news outlets.
Providing better-quality news is the challenge of journalists and their organizations. In a low-cost era of publishing when just about anyone can disseminate views, the bigger challenge may be how to educate and prepare the citizenry to seek out and identify high-quality information.