Journalism in the United States has increasingly prioritized opinion-based content over “objective” reporting, an analysis from the RAND Corporation released Tuesday found.
Researchers said the shift has occurred gradually over a roughly 28-year time span as the landscape of the industry has changed to incorporate 24-hour cable news channels and digital publications.
With the development of the internet, advertising revenue for print publications has declined dramatically, leading to mass-layoffs of staff and the closure of many more traditional publications, particularly at the local level.
The report is the second in a series of research into the phenomenon of “Truth Decay,” which RAND describes as “the declining role of facts and analysis in civil discourse and its effect on American life.”
The report was done using proprietary artificial intelligence software, which analyzed millions of lines of text in print, broadcast, and online journalism stemming back to 1989.
How has the presentation of news — its style and linguistic characteristics — changed over time and across media platforms?
To find out, we conducted a quantitative analysis of 30 years of news stories. This thread provides an overview. https://t.co/EUxNdYcaux via @jekavanagh
— RAND Corporation (@RANDCorporation) May 14, 2019
The report is based on content from three print outlets, The New York Times, Washington Post, and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch; five television channels, CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, Fox and MSNBC; and seven digital publications, Politico, The Blaze, Breitbart News Network, Buzzfeed Politics, The Daily Caller and The Huffington Post.
“Our research provides quantitative evidence for what we all can see in the media landscape: Journalism in the U.S. has become more subjective and consists less of the detailed event- or context-based reporting that used to characterize news coverage,” Jennifer Kavanagh, the lead author of the report, said.
The analysis found that before 2000, television news broadcasts were more likely to feature “relatively complex academic and precise language” and “complex reasoning.”
Since then, the medium has become more reliant debates between on-air personalities and have featured more argumentive language. RAND also found that differences between coverage of events or topics between networks have grown more stark.
Newspaper coverage has changed the least over time, though researchers were able to document a subtle shift from more academic style to a more narrative one.
Comparatively, the digital publications that were analyzed were found to contain more “subjective references” and writing from a more personal perspective.
Generally, the researchers concluded that content across all platforms increasingly “appeals to emotion and relies heavily on argumentation and advocacy.”