The authors: Junho H. Choi, James H. Watt and Michael Lynch; the publisher: JCMC, the full title: “Perceptions of News Credibility about the War in Iraq: Why War Opponents Perceived the Internet as the Most Credible Medium”.
Choi, Watt and Lynch surveyed how bearers of different opinions about the Iraq war (“supporters,” “neutrals” and “opponents”) perceived various media’s credibility. Apparently, those opposing the war relied more heavily on the internet to gather news than war supporters and neutrals. Perhaps unsurprisingly, opponents also saw that the internet – in general – questioned the war-supporting attitude of mainstream, conventional media. War opponents also rated the internet more credible than did war supporters and neutrals.
In other words,
the internet was viewed as an alternative channel by those who could not otherwise get news or information from traditional media that accorded with their political attitudes towards the war in Iraq.
The authors also tried to explore the notion of credibility – and what it could mean in online settings. Participants of the survey were asked to rank various media types according to their perceived credibility, and also to define what “credibility” means for them. I think this is the most interesting part of the study.
Those who thought the internet was more credible than TV, radio and conventional newspapers, cited most often the reason that the ‘net provides “acces to many sources of information”. In contrast, the dominant reason for choosing TV as the most credible was the “feeling of seeing events live and directly”, while those who considered magazines and newspapers to be most credible said this was because they “had time for analysis of information” (which the others lacked).
Three points, then.
First – this is probably obvious, but nevertheless I feel important to stress, if only for myself: the perception of credibility depends – at least partly – on the attitudes of the media consumer towards the contents of various media organs. The “hostile media environment theory” describes how highly engaged audiences (partisan groups) perceive neutral reports as biased against their views, IF these reports are perceived as having a broad-reach capacity. “Obviously”, one could say, “the mainstream media is biased!” – so let’s turn to the internet where any partisan group can find news and reports that suit their attitudes. (Or supposedly neutral reports in which case the assimilation bias effect can spring into life.)
Second – for the abovementioned reason, I wonder how useful it actually is to know that the internet is perceived as credible mostly because it seen as offering multiple sources of information. What I mean is this.
Credibility could be established on the grounds that a report presents multiple, probably conflicting views. If a single report attempts to present events from the point of view of all the interested parties, the attempt to avoid promoting ideologies could be appreciated by readers and render the report credible.
But on the other hand, “multiple sources of information” does not necessarily mean this. It might simply mean that all sorts of views are represented in different reports, without any kind of effort to reconcile various viewpoints, or to check them against each other. Pick whichever view you like, but don’t expect any of them to try to include multiple points of view. This leads to the
third point – I think the general categories of “internet,” “TV,” “radio,” “newspapers” and “magazines” are somewhat muddy. How does preference for one of these categories correlate with preference for a certain media organ within that category? If you think TV is the most credible, do you have Fox News, CNN, or Comedy Central in mind? If you think radio is more credible than TV, would you say Rush Limbaugh is more credible than Keith Olbermann, or the other way round?
(It’s horribly early in the morning here, I still I hope I’m getting this point across here.)
I think dealing with general categories like that means losing focus – especially since online tools today more and more enable online news reports to incorporate those elements of TV and newspapers that, apparently, render these latter credible (videos + long, in-depth analysis). It is important to know that definitions of credibility differ according to perception, and that the ‘net is thought to be credible because of multiple points of info, but it would be good to know what kind of “internet” respondents had in mind when they provided their answers.