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Newspaper op-eds change minds (sciencedaily.com)
113 points by thisisit on April 26, 2018 | hide | past | favorite | 38 comments

These days I try hard to maintain control of my perspective not by reading broadly, but reading judiciously; I have a white-list on sources rather than a black-list.

For instance, if cable news is on, I fight the temptation to give it my attention. But I sometimes seek out public news like PBS or NPR. It’s difficult to identify what the difference is, but I find myself better able to separate opinions from facts.

For online news: I pay and from a newspaper that gets more than 50% of its revenue from subscriptions. It also has a finance bent, and is non-US based, which seems to steer me clear of much of the political echo chamber. Therefore the op-eds are often on topics that don’t directly impact me and I find it easier to assess the expressed opinion without emotional investment (e.g. from today: “Customs Union: The battleground set to decide the fate of Brexit”).

While on emotional investment, I find the public conversation (which I seem to be less privy to now days) to be alarmist, ideological, and radicalizing. Perhaps that’s because Breitbart, HuffPo, and the likes are the masters of new media grabbing impressions and setting the narrative of “what’s news” around the world.

All in all, my content consumption patterns have shifted from “eat what’s in front of you” to “toy with your diet and see where you end up; rinse; repeat”. So I make no claims that this is the right approach, it’s just my current approach.

> For online news: I pay and from a newspaper that gets more than 50% of its revenue from subscriptions. It also has a finance bent, and is non-US based, which seems to steer me clear of much of the political echo chamber. Therefore the op-eds are often on topics that don’t directly impact me and I find it easier to assess the expressed opinion without emotional investment (e.g. from today: “Customs Union: The battleground set to decide the fate of Brexit”).

It's funny you mention the FT. It might be outside your echo chamber but it probably is the loudest voice in mine. Pro-EU, broadly free trade and broadly in favour of the welfare state. I work in the City and I can at any time see a number of people reading it on their screens, there are paper copies piled up in in-trays and the views expressed in those op-ed have a commensurately large correlation with what I (over)hear while queuing to buy a sandwich at lunchtime.

More or less was going to comment along similar lines. I'm probably the radical opposite (Northern, unemployed, mediocre education) of a stereotype of its readers, but the FT is probably my preferred newspaper source these days because it's (relatively) the most sober UK publication, if you take in to account its institutional worldview. The exception to that is the overly-hysterical - at times, apocalyptic - stance on Brexit, although that may speak to its London-centricity and serving conservative corporate cultures where "don't scare the horses" is a preference for the political jurisdictions they do business in.

I have noticed an element of virtue signaling creeping in lately, though. Hopefully not a sign that they're about to go full 'The Economist' on its readers, which would be a disappointment.

You mention copies of the FT piled up on colleagues' trays - do you see many copies of City AM? Are there many readers and can you infer much of anything about them?

As City AM is a free paper I don't see paper copies much in the office - people tend to read it on the tube and then dispose of it when they arrive in the morning (and probably take the Standard on the way home). It's also not as easy to tell when someone is reading it on a screen because it's background is the normal white rather than pink.

Totally agree with you about the FT's apocalyptic outlook on Brexit - though I think that's moderated somewhat over the last 6 months as it's become clear that the sky isn't going to fall on us :)

Remember it's more than just fact and opinion, it's also about what's covered, whose interviewed, etc.

That's always been the most reasonable perspective on "bias" in most major newspapers like the New York Times. I do believe they endeavor to report stories accurately. But the selection of stories and the way they're approached almost inevitably a particular set of beliefs and perspectives.

Don't know why you're being downvoted. Agenda is pushed by what you chose to omit just as much as it is by what you chose to report.

I think it's important to hear from varied sources, not just numerous ones. So many people talk about how they read a variety of sources to get balance, but then their sources are the Washington Post, PBS, NPR, the New York Times, and the major US cable news networks, which don't exactly represent a wide range of opinion.

I'd agree with you a year ago. But, then I disconnected from Facebook as an experiment. This cut out 90% of my exposure to alternate news sources (alternate defined here as my traffic not being direct).

I know I miss some things, and some things I just find out about late (I'm never the first to hear about horrendous disasters - which appears to be good for my mental health).

So I'm opting to be under-exposed vs. over-exposed. And, I'm taking the approach of curating the source first, and the content second. The inverse lets in too much noise, that I simply don't have the time or expertise to vet and assess.

Unfortunately, the "trusted partner" approach doesn't work with things like Apple News, which wants to lowest-common-denominator news sources like CNN / MSNBC / Fox News to me, but has virtually no support for premium news.

As other's noticed, I read FT. But, I have a belief right now that news with a financial slant is the key to having a critical perspective – you understand where the participants of a story stand and where they're set to gain. The benefit? As situations unfold, you can actually learn from watching how individuals respond to stimuli, and somewhat assess what the universe of possible actions might be.

That's a mouthful, but it lends the opportunity to be patient with news and forces paced consumption in moderation over a long period of time. Consider that as an alternative to common consumption patterns which appear to match multi-hour "Turn on, tune in, drop out" sessions with 40 minutes of content and 20 minutes of ads(!).

On the flip side, I'm (obviously) a member of HN, so I get variety here – albeit largely tech focused.

This is what I get from reading the paper copy of the Scotsman in a cafe at lunch. Somehow it seems better to have clear "sections"; the US politics is confined to the single foreign news page, and even UK news is not the main focus. Some of their opinion columnists are extremely bad and I stop reading at their byline, but that's a relatively small part of the paper and I'm not giving them money for it.

Whereas reading news through social media gets you whatever the most controversial thing is at the moment - often US news which is of limited relevance to me.

You (and others with similar habits) may be interested in Vanessa's "chart": http://www.allgeneralizationsarefalse.com/the-chart-version-...

Reuters is my only regular source of news, and it was before I first saw that chart, and I was happy to see their position there. Although even they've been subtly sharp when reporting on the latest Trump news recently.

Following this stuff is a guilty habit for me. I agree with some of what Aaron Swartz had to say about news (http://www.aaronsw.com/weblog/hatethenews), but skimming it makes for as good a social lubricant as alcohol.

Would you be willing to share your white-list? As well as your "consumption-flow" for digesting it?

Welcome to the Guardian ;-)

I assumed it was the FT, and a Google search seems to confirm that.

Should have known :-) And as always comments say more about oneself than the other.

I don’t think HuffPo is “agenda-setting”, or really any opinion pages. I’d say the agenda is actually driven by real reporting (not op-Ed’s) in the NYT, WahPo, sometimes WSJ. The current hot topics in US politics, for example, are the VA nominee, the EPA head’s corruption, and the Macron visit. All those are actual news.

But the FT is rather good, indeed.

Here's the front page of the Huffington Post after Trump won the NH primaries.


Searching for "Huffington post Trump" on any image search pulls similar results.

Just in case you thought that screenshot looks fake: https://web.archive.org/web/20160210013242/http://www.huffin...

When they say the control was not given an op-ed to read, do they mean no reading material was provided, or that they were shown a neutral article?

I suspect that the increased exposure of op-eds comes from newspapers not being printed any more. It used to be that they were isolated onto two pages inside a newspaper. The editorial page and the "opposite-editorial" page. When reading them you knew you they were expressing the opinion of the writer. (I used to think the abbreviates stood for "opinion".)

On the internet the boundary between news and opinion blurs. The front of www.nytimes.com right now has opinion articles prominently featured at the top of the page. They know that readers don't browse a site the way they do a printed newspaper. If they want something to be read it has to be one of the first things they see. But more frequently readers enter an article directly through shared, aggregated, or searched for links. "Click here to read this in the New York Times" doesn't tell you if what you're going to is a news report, op-ed, reprinted press release, or paid advertisement masquerading a news. You may be halfway through the article before noticing the tag that indicates what section it's in, if you notice at all.

The effect of this is that readers are either not able or not willing to differentiate between opinion and unbiased news. Combined with mistrust of journalism after lying scandals, conflicts of interest, and fake news, readers are likely assuming everything they read is an opinion. When facts are inscrutable then the truth of what you know becomes indistinguishable from the truth that you feel.


"Study 1:...In Wave 1, we collected pre-treatment background variables, exposed subjects to one of five treatment op-eds (or nothing), and collected immediate outcomes."

So it looks like no reading material.

This is one of those studies that I'm not sure are profound or silly. But of course people changed their minds after listening to a reasoned discussion, who wouldn't? The more interesting case would be "people impervious to written communication".

What I'd like to know is whether people changed their mind or changed their worldview, that is, do written pieces actually get people to think radically-different about major parts of their lives? Or do they just get people who are a bit apathetic more energized and sure of themselves about something they're already predisposed to generally agree with?

I suspect this effect only holds on extremely broad issues where people don't consider their core identities material interests to be at stake. It's one thing to be amenable to arguments about very 'zoomed out' policy issues advanced by some bloodless columnist in a mass market publication. It's quite another to convince a NIMBY that the housing market needs to be glutted, or plutocrat that their money needs to be spent on poor people instead of private islands.

The magnitude of the change is quite large. And I think it is quite plausible that op-eds only 'preach to the converted' or only persuade those who are already persuaded. This article shows good evidence that people do change their minds -- especially as these articles covered topics on which the treatment group had views on.

There's burnout, of course. I'm pretty left leaning, and I'm a subscriber, but I can't stand reading any more NYT op-eds.

I agree. I mentally translated this to "It pays to write op-eds to turn out the vote", that is, op-eds are a cost-effective way to energize the people who already support you.

It's a bit of a tweak on the headline, but I think it more accurately reflects the nature of the research (Assuming I didn't miss something.)

Through all the years media effects research had consistently trouble identifying effects at all. Finding any evidence for opinion change through media consumption has always been especially hard, so that a lot of media effect theories are squarely focused on effects other than opinion change like agenda setting or framing (etc.).

Given the current state of media effects research it is not at all clear and obvious that any arguments can influence opinions. As such results to the contrary are surprising (and should be examined closely).

This implies that which positions respected publications run reasoned, convincing arguments for affects what people believe. That for all their complaints about Facebook mind control, they're just as much in the business of controlling people's minds if not more so.

Kudos for the researchers for publishing their data and the R scripts to reproduce their findings.

A minor complaint I have is that the variable names aren't very clear. What's `dv_flat_agree_w1` etc?

I actually think that is pretty solid variable naming. dependentVariable_flatTax_agree_wave1 isn't the worst but also the researchers are looking at this so long it makes sense for them to shorten. I think pretty vs usable code is one of the reasons researchers don't publish their code as frequently as they should. Writing a paper is already a huge time sink, then having the need to clean up variable names, comment, all of that stuff would be great but they also are trying to publish in a timely fashion. No matter what, I'm not really agreeing or disagreeing with you, just a thought. I do agree with you though, I am glad there is more and more of a trend to publish everything involved in the research process.

I can't find the data/scripts. Can you give the link?

Go to: https://www.nowpublishers.com/article/Details/QJPS-16112 and click "Supplementary information" below the abstract.

In my 20s and perhaps 30s, I read the op-eds pretty regularly. At some point after that, my policy changed: if given the headline and the byline I can sketch out the arguments, I generally skip it.

im sure there are mixed opinions on “chapo trap house” as a whole, but i think they have filled a somewhat novel niche of lampooning oped writers who have no business being listened to. i feel like opeds are passive accepted / groaned at, but giving them renewed attention and scrutiny has reminded me how little weight i should give most of the writers opinions. in many cases, they have no more expertise or knowlege than a layperson on the topic, what business do they have being read by millions?

Their recent episode on The Atlantic & Kevin Williamson was really enlightening. Establishment media is seen as a “balanced news diet” but it’s really an extremely narrow ideological band. It’s so telling that the NYT or Atlantic would never hire an actual leftist (or on the other side, a true trump believer rather than a never-trump conservative), but they’re bewildered at the angry response from trying to hire someone who said women who get abortions deserve capital punishment. Women’s rights are negotiable to them but capitalism and imperialism can never be attacked. Even in a respected liberal rag.

I'm only a chapter in on "The Influential Mind" by Tali Sharot, but the op-ed as influential makes sense. Mainly because a good op-ed should explore the given issue with some balance (i.e., present and identify with all sides), and draw its own conclusion.

I have learned from experience that most people cannot differentiate cause from effort or fact from truth. As such I suspect any published opinion will change many the opinions of many people without any rational consideration.

Think of the implications for the old fashioned advertorial[0]...

0 - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Advertorial

Considering the content of some of the op-eds I read, this prospect is more worrying than the idea that nobody's thinking is affected by them.

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