20200
P
1
20100
R  E
2
2070
D   I   C
3
2050
T   I   O   N
4
2040
S   F   O   R   J
5
2030
O  U  R  N  A  L
6
2020
I  S  M  2  0  2  0
7

Increasingly fractured, but little bit deliberative

“People who seek news from across lines of difference and talk politics with people across lines of difference have less polarized attitudes about political leaders and groups, even when accounting for their county’s economic resilience, population change, and health outcomes.”

Ideally, journalism clearly and transparently reports the verifiable truth to an audience that trusts the information they consume in such a way that they use it to meaningfully deliberate about the choices they face.

In 2020, I expect journalists to continue to struggle with how to handle issues of truth — when they know the truth, and when they don’t — and citizens to continue to struggle deciding who they can trust across all levels of the information ecology in which they live. These struggles are likely to occur in an increasingly fractured and contentious political environment.

That said, there’s reason to believe, as Talia Stroud noted last year, that journalists’ ability to shed light across lines of difference can continue to play a role in how some citizens deliberate about their political choices.

Living in a contentious political era will continue to seep into people’s everyday lives in ways that it usually doesn’t, fracturing friendships along the way. In 2018, our survey of Wisconsinites found that about half said they’d stopped talking politics with someone over political disagreements, while 20 percent of people literally ended friendships or family relationships due to political disagreements. This is likely to get worse in what will be a very contentious election year.

On the journalism side, I expect journalists to continue highlighting extreme voices, which leads to misperceptions about the nature and extremity of our political divides. I also suspect mainstream outlets will continue to diverge on questions of who to interview, how to recognize what is real (especially on social media), and when to call a lie a lie.

Despite some evidence that many politically minded people live in partisan echo chambers that encourage increased political fracture, there’s strong evidence that encountering information across lines of difference (a) happens and (b) is consequential. In our investigation of how people’s information diet relates to their vote choices, we found that split-ticket votes were mostly likely to be cast by precisely those folks who spend some time with news media that reports from a different ideological perspective than their own. In forthcoming work in the International Journal of Public Opinion Research, we show that people who seek news from across lines of difference and talk politics with people across lines of difference have less polarized attitudes about political leaders and groups, even when accounting for their county’s economic resilience, population change, and health outcomes.

Though 2020 will surely exacerbate old challenges while raising new ones, I’m hopeful that the journalism that clearly and transparently reports the verifiable truth will be helpful to citizens seeking to make sense of their world.

Michael W. Wagner is a professor of journalism and mass communication at the University of Wisconsin.

Ideally, journalism clearly and transparently reports the verifiable truth to an audience that trusts the information they consume in such a way that they use it to meaningfully deliberate about the choices they face.

In 2020, I expect journalists to continue to struggle with how to handle issues of truth — when they know the truth, and when they don’t — and citizens to continue to struggle deciding who they can trust across all levels of the information ecology in which they live. These struggles are likely to occur in an increasingly fractured and contentious political environment.

That said, there’s reason to believe, as Talia Stroud noted last year, that journalists’ ability to shed light across lines of difference can continue to play a role in how some citizens deliberate about their political choices.

Living in a contentious political era will continue to seep into people’s everyday lives in ways that it usually doesn’t, fracturing friendships along the way. In 2018, our survey of Wisconsinites found that about half said they’d stopped talking politics with someone over political disagreements, while 20 percent of people literally ended friendships or family relationships due to political disagreements. This is likely to get worse in what will be a very contentious election year.

On the journalism side, I expect journalists to continue highlighting extreme voices, which leads to misperceptions about the nature and extremity of our political divides. I also suspect mainstream outlets will continue to diverge on questions of who to interview, how to recognize what is real (especially on social media), and when to call a lie a lie.

Despite some evidence that many politically minded people live in partisan echo chambers that encourage increased political fracture, there’s strong evidence that encountering information across lines of difference (a) happens and (b) is consequential. In our investigation of how people’s information diet relates to their vote choices, we found that split-ticket votes were mostly likely to be cast by precisely those folks who spend some time with news media that reports from a different ideological perspective than their own. In forthcoming work in the International Journal of Public Opinion Research, we show that people who seek news from across lines of difference and talk politics with people across lines of difference have less polarized attitudes about political leaders and groups, even when accounting for their county’s economic resilience, population change, and health outcomes.

Though 2020 will surely exacerbate old challenges while raising new ones, I’m hopeful that the journalism that clearly and transparently reports the verifiable truth will be helpful to citizens seeking to make sense of their world.

Michael W. Wagner is a professor of journalism and mass communication at the University of Wisconsin.

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