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Column: How what you value can affect what you believe when it comes to news
Shannon Casas
Shannon Casas

Last week, we talked about facts. Today, we’re going to talk about values.

A recently released 78-page study, “A New Way of Looking at Trust in Media: Do Americans Share Journalism’s Core Values?,” found that most people embraced the idea that the more facts we have in society the more likely we are to solve problems. And the study notes journalists highly value providing factual information.

The problem is, it’s been difficult in recent years to agree on what the facts are.

The study specifically looked at five core journalism values: factualism, giving a voice to the less powerful, oversight, transparency and social criticism. And it looked at moral values including the following spectrums: care vs. harm, fairness vs. cheating, loyalty vs. betrayal, authority vs. subversion and purity vs. degradation.

Part of what the study found is that Democrats and Republicans differ on the moral values they most emphasize.

“Typically, liberals relate most to the values of care and fairness. Care and fairness speak to conservatives as well, but conservatives place additional import on loyalty, authority, and purity,” the study found.

For example, the study found that the percent who place most importance on loyalty is 36% for conservatives, compared to just 11% for liberals and 23% for moderates. Meanwhile, results showed when considering the value of fairness, 26% of liberals placed the most importance there, compared to 21% for conservatives and 23% for moderates.

We found somewhat similar results when we surveyed readers last year on issues of importance in their choice for president. Equal rights was the issue most important to those who identified themselves as liberal or very liberal, with health care and environment coming in second and third. For those who identified themselves as conservative or very conservative, meanwhile, the top issue was economy, with Supreme Court and religious freedom coming in second and third.  

It seems we might be able to agree on the facts of a story, but instead we’re telling two entirely different stories.

Take for example the timely issue of race and law enforcement. This study shows liberals are generally most concerned with fairness and conservatives with loyalty. It’s no surprise then that liberals are talking most about whether law enforcement is treating people of color with fairness and emphasizing each time it seems that may not be true. Meanwhile, conservatives, valuing loyalty and authority more, are concerned about respect for law enforcement.

These are broad brushstrokes, but understanding these general leanings might help us understand one another a bit better. 

The study went on to put different versions of news stories in front of those involved in the study. The first version, or standard version, highlighted story themes related to care and fairness. A revised version included those elements but also emphasized angles of the story related to authority and loyalty.

“The revised versions of the stories did broaden their appeal to more skeptical audiences,” the study states. And that version didn’t alienate those who don’t place as much emphasis on authority or loyalty.

So, back to race and law enforcement, perhaps we can agree that Derek Chauvin betrayed his duty as an officer. Authority should be respected, but not when someone with that authority betrays his oath.

As liberals continue pointing out potential cases of harm and unfairness, conservatives will continue valuing authority and loyalty. While reporters work to gather and share all the facts, consider those two viewpoints and how they intersect. And hopefully this study can give the journalists of the world some food for thought as they report those facts, too.

Shannon Casas is editor in chief of The Times and a North Hall resident. 

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