Understanding Conservative News Values and Audience Engagement

U.S. journalists and news outlets are well aware that political polarization is leading to increasing levels of mistrust in news media. Conservative news media have been developing their own media networks for decades, and they have significant influence, shaping a wide swath of conservative Americans’ understanding of political life. Conservative media outlets present their audiences with distinct understandings of particular issues. Furthermore, historical research, such as Nicole Hemmer’s Messengers of the Right, suggests that conservative journalism introduces ways of knowing and assumptions about truth and legitimacy that can differ markedly from dominant professional journalistic norms.

This study will conduct interviews with journalists, editors, and other workers at conservative news outlets. As part of the study, newsroom visits or opportunities to shadow reports may also be arranged. The goal of the study will be to understand some of the basic news values, news routines, and audience engagement strategies animating different conservative news outlets. The research questions being investigated include:

  • How do conservative news outlets make decisions about prioritizing news stories? How do they define what makes a “good story”?
  • Which aspects of professional journalistic norms do these outlets accept and which do they reject? What claims do they make about sources of journalistic truth?  How do they implement routines for story selection, fact-checking, editorial review, and making corrections when errors are identified?
  • What sense do reporters and editors have of their users/audiences? How do audience metrics or other user feedback mechanisms inform the selection and presentation of news?

This study recognizes there is a great variety of approaches among conservative news outlets. While it will not be able to cover the entire range, it will focus on differences and similarities between three types of online conservative outlets: born-digital, commercial outlets; non-profit news sites; and the online reporting of well-established legacy sources.

Project leads: A.J. Bauer, Anthony Nadler

January 01, 2018