Policy ForumMedia and Society

Small media, big impact

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Science  10 Nov 2017:
Vol. 358, Issue 6364, pp. 726-727
DOI: 10.1126/science.aar2579

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A robust and informative media has long been viewed as critical to the functioning of democracy (13). Much popular discussion suggests that media are becoming less able to fulfill this role. Traditional news organizations seem weakened and battered, shedding staff and influence even as social media introduces a tide of new threats. Polarization seems to have cut countries in two, with each side hearing news and information only from its own partisan sources. Many look back with nostalgia at a time when the nightly TV news set a common agenda for the vast majority of citizens. The landmark study by King et al. (4) on page 776 of this issue offers an important counterpoint. Drawing on the first experimental study in which the content of media outlets has been randomized on a large scale, it suggests that mainstream U.S. journalism remains more relevant, more influential, and more connected to a broad cross-section of people than many might have thought possible.