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An examination of entertainment-based news and whether such programs inform or create the sense of being informed. Being informed vs. feeling informed. Barry Hollander Grady College University of Georgia.

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being informed vs feeling informed

An examination of entertainment-based news and whether such programs inform or create the sense of being informed.


Barry HollanderGrady CollegeUniversity of Georgia


High school students use the news, just not in traditional formats. They also see describe alternative sources as news, such as The Daily Show.

Source: The Future of the First Amendment for the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation (2006).


what about young adults how often do you watch the daily show by age group

What about young adults? How often do you watch The Daily Show by Age Group?

Source: Pew Center for the People and the Press, July 30 2006, survey

  • Young people tend to use other news-related media less often than other age categories except for listening to talk radio or watching morning news shows. The overall audience for The Daily Show is relatively small compared to other programs.
why knowledge matters
Why knowledge matters
  • An enlightened citizenry is considered one of the foundations of a successful democracy.
  • Informed citizens are thought to be less susceptible to persuasion by emotional arguments or demagoguery.
  • Despite dramatic increases in education and information sources, how much people know about public affairs has not significantly changed.
  • Unfortunately, “to say that much of the public is uninformed about much of the substance of politics and public policy is to say nothing new” (Delli Carpini & Keeter, 1992, p. 19).
measures of knowledge
Measures of Knowledge
  • Recall

The traditional measure of knowledge, either to civics textbook or current events questions, that requires a respondent pull a correct answer from his or her head.

  • Recognition

Less traditional, multiple measures of whether a respondent recognizes or remembers something about a story or topic, a feeling of knowing.

  • Estimate

Respondents asked to estimate their level of knowledge. Similar to internal efficacy; often modestly correlated with actual knowledge.

measures of media use
Measures of Media Use
  • Exposure

Measures of mere exposure, from number of days used to scales that range from “regularly” to “never” for specific media. Fails to capture the haphazard nature of some media.

  • Attention

Typically builds on exposure and taps how much attention paid to a medium, a measure preferred by many to understand television and related media.

  • Motivated Use

Often used to measure use for a specific purpose, such as to keep up with news (i.e., reliance). Helpful when asking about entertainment-based media with a news angle, such as The Daily Show or West Wing.


Soft and Hard News

  • Many studies find no relationship between watching entertainment-based programs or soft news and political knowledge.
  • Baum argues that soft news can lead to incidental learning by an inattentive public. He found an interaction with education and soft news use much like the one I found for talk radio exposure.
  • Prior, in response to Baum, found very little support for the notion that soft news can lead to greater knowledge. He suggests instead political advertising may hold the key to informing the public.
  • A recent experiment by Baumgartner & Morris found that watching The Daily Show contributed greatly to a sense of being informed but greater cynicism about the political process.
  • Brewer & Cao found seeing a candidate on late-night or comedy shows can positively influence knowledge about the campaign.
  • A study forthcoming in JOBEM suggests that The Daily Show with Jon Stewart contains as much substantive news coverage as traditional broadcast network newscasts.


Multivariate Analysis Findings

Watching late-night shows such as Leno and Letterman to keep up with the news, after statistical controls, was negatively associated with with recall but positively associated with recognition.

Watching such comedy programs as The Daily Show to keep up with the news was negatively associated with recall but unrelated to recognition.

Age did not interact with viewing in the expected ways. For example, watching comedy shows improved both recognition and recall for younger viewers. Late-night viewing was not associated with recognition regardless of age, but for older respondents it led to less recall as compared to younger viewers.

In a recent Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media piece (V49, #3, 2005) I examined the effect of watching late-night and comedy programs to keep up with the news. My dependent variables were recall and recognition of political information.

I predicted an age interaction with viewing based on my earlier published work on talk radio. However, as is often the case, data got in the way of a good theory.


This StudyDoes watching The Daily Show affect young viewers different than other viewers on knowledge or the sense of being informed. Data drawn from the 2004 Pew Biennial Media Consumption Survey. My thanks to the Pew Center for making these data available. All interpretations are my own.

Political Knowledge (4-item index)

Do you happen to know which political party has a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives?

Do you know the name of the terrorist organization that is responsible for the September 11th attacks on the United States?

In the recent trial involving Martha Stewart, can you recall whether (she was found guilty/she was found innocent/there was a mistrial)?

Since the start of military action in Iraq last March, about how many U.S. soldiers have been killed? To the best of your knowledge, has it been under 500, 500 to 1000, 1000 to 2000, or more than 2000?

Recognition (5-item index)

How closely do you follow these issues? (4-point scale from very closely to not at all closely).

News about the current situation in Iraq?

News about candidates for the 2004 presidential election?

The Sept 11 Commission’s hearing on the 2001 terrorist attacks?

The high price of gasoline these days?

The issue of gay and lesbian marriage?


I often don’t have enough background information to follow news stories (4-point agree/disagree scale). [Coded so high scores are high internal or self efficacy).


Zero-order correlations among key variables

Non-significant correlations are excluded from the table.


Partial correlations by Age category controlling for education, Income, sex, and race.

Significant partial correlations are greater than .10 or less than -.10 on this table.


For TV News and Newspapers, different results

Partial correlations controlling for age, education, income, and sex.. For TV news, an r > .07 is significant. For newspapers, an r > .15 is significant.


Is there something special about this preference for humor in news? By age, some interesting results emerge. Among the youngest respondents, there is a significant association between a preference for such news and recognition, one not seen in other age groups.


If you watch the news and don't like it, then this is your counter program to the news.

Some people confuse us with a news show. And that either says something terrible about the state of news in this country or something terrible about the state of comedy on this program.

Jon Stewart

This is a first blush at analyses examining the relationship between entertainment-based news and how much young people learn – or think they learn – from such programs.Whether such programs replace traditional news for some people, particularly younger citizens, remains an open question.