Partisan Media Is Easier to Read and More Negative Than Mainstream Media, Research Confirms
Past research has suggested that the way conservative media frames and communicates messages to its audiences is distinct from both liberal partisan outlets and mainstream, non-partisan media. However, with the recent surge of partisan media being used by the public, researchers at the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications (UFCJC) sought to determine whether the same communication techniques were used in extreme liberal media.
UFCJC doctoral student Jessica Sparks and Public Relations Associate Professor Jay Hmielowski examined the complexity, tone, and sentiment of thousands of news stories from 20 popular news outlets to determine what kind of similarities and differences could be identified between conservative, liberal, and nonpartisan media. Their research found that extreme partisan media on both the left and the right tend to use easier-to-read language that is more negative, and often less formal, than non-partisan and mainstream outlets. They specifically sought stories that represented a range of partisanship, ideology, reliability, and bias from a range of liberal, conservative, and non-partisan media outlets.
The researchers examined selected stories based on a variety of criteria, including examining for tone, reading level, and syntactical complexity. They found that, while more extreme partisan media outlets are associated with higher readability, there were few differences when conservative outlets were compared to liberal outlets.
While simplistic language tends to be attributed to conservative media, this research shows that use of simple, less formal language in media is present across the ideological spectrum. This research also begins to fill a gap where far-left rhetoric has gotten less attention in similar research studies.
Overall, this research shows that strong ideological views translate well to easier-to-read content, regardless of ideology. This research also shows that sentence structure, informality in writing, and tone might be a way for journalists to better target their messaging for conservatives, liberals, and everyone in between.
The original research paper, “At the Extremes: Assessing Readability, Grade Level, Sentiment, and Tone in US Media Outlets,” appeared in Journalism Studies (2022).
Authors: Jessica F. Sparks, Jay D. Hmielowski
This summary was written by Marie Morganelli, Ph.D.