Processing The News: How People Tame The Information Tide
A fascinating book which details an experiment which took place in 1976. Twenty-one subjects in Evanston, Illinois (north of Chicago) were followed for one year. All of the news that was published in the area was cataloged, as was all the news the subjects consumed. They were regularly interviewed about how they processed it all.
Graber found a couple things –
We process by filtering. Only 18 percent of news articles were actually read. Our first value judgment about a piece of news was whether or not to consume it. Some people avoided stories because they made them uncomfortable. We can process, therefore, by simple exclusion.
We process by “schema.” A schema is a “cognitive structure” – basically, a way of thinking about something, like “All politicians are corrupt” or “The Middle East problem will never be solved.” When we intake news, we search our existing schemata (that’s the plural of “schema,” apparently) for one that matches, and we attempt to fit this new information into it. It is very rare that we change or even adapt new schemata – we essentially lock ourselves into a way of thinking about something, and try to shoehorn everything we consume into it.
A wonderful, ambitious book. It has huge implications for journalism and political communication (well, had, given that it was written in 1988 and based on an experiment in 1976).