Montreal — In the media, it’s common to rely on experts for the facts about policy issues. New research from the Institute for Research on Public Policy uncovers a disturbing trend, however: journalists who cite these experts more often choose quotes based on entertainment value rather than educational merit.
The takeaway is clear: “Experts should be aware that too close a collaboration with journalists might ultimately tarnish their reputation. Their credibility rests on their ability to provide content informed by research,” caution the paper’s authors, Éric Montpetit (Université de Montréal) and PerOla Öberg (Uppsala University, Sweden).
The researchers analyzed more than 4,500 quotes from experts in 3,735 articles printed in major Canadian and Swedish newspapers — The Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, La Presse, Journal de Montréal, Aftonbladet, Expressen, Svenska Dagbladet and Dagens Nyheter — during the latter part of national election campaigns held in those countries between 2000 and 2015. They found that the more often an expert is quoted, the less educational the content.
What’s more, they found that the differences between Canada and Sweden are minimal, which suggests that powerful forces that transcend national borders are at work. These include growing competition among media organizations, and efforts to maintain commercial revenues when many news and opinion articles are available for free online and through social media.
“Ultimately, we hope our research will contribute to a much-needed debate over the role of media and experts in enlightening the public, enabling meaningful participation in democracy,” conclude Montpetit and Öberg.
Expert Views in the Media during Canadian and Swedish Elections: Educative or Entertaining?, by Éric Montpetit and PerOla Öberg can downloaded from the Institute’s website (irpp.org).
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