Newsosaur blogger Alan Mutter writes what I think is a thought-provoking and interesting post in which he argues that given the current economic crisis facing most news outlets today, they might consider “whether a more outspoken, less diffident, more opinionated and less dreary press might be welcomed by journalists and readers alike.”
I don’t have time for a more complete post now in the midst of grading season, but I just wanted to note that the research indicates that he is exactly right.
As early as 1989, scholars Newhagan and Nass were finding that television news anchors were more trusted than their newspaper counterparts, in large part because people just felt like they really knew them. This was before the cable shout-fests began, but simply being able to show a hint of personality and to be a “real person” on air led to higher credibility.
A recent study by my former Mizzou colleagues Jeremy Littau, Liz Gardner, and Esther Thorson, presented at the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication conference in Boston last August, found that news with more opinion, voice, and analysis could be key in attracting younger readers. (Jeremy has his own blog, and I’m sure he can talk better about his work than I can, so check it out :))
They also tested the impact of voice on what is known in the academy as “political efficacy,” or the belief that you are able to act upon your knowledge.
What they found is that voice increases efficacy, in part because, unlike a dry, authoritative, institutional voice, it better engages your brain. It gets you thinking, actively processing the information, which in turn makes it more likely that you will not only remember this information, but feel empowered to act on it, too.
There’s more research on voice, which I will write about later; one of my students did her final paper for my class on the subject.
I’m lucky enough to have many journalism friends on Facebook, and sometimes I feel like their hilarious, irreverent voices don’t make it into their more dry, institutional copy. I think it’s a missed opportunity.
Voice doesn’t HAVE TO mean less facts or more ill-informed ranting a la Fox News or MSNBC. It’s what our best columnists have always done – there’s still hard-hitting reporting, but the person behind the story isn’t completely hidden. If anything, the biases they are trying (often to little avail) to hide are instead transparently represented to the audience and become part and parcel of their expertise rather than a liability.