Are editors applying psychology in the news room?

I’m working on developing a feature pitch regarding journalists’ application of psychological research on misinformation. This piece would take one of two very different shapes. Either I find examples of such practices, and write:

Story 1. How Reporters and Editors are Applying Psychology to the Newsroom

…or I find credible evidence that journalists are not currently applying such research, and write:

Story 2. Does Psychological Research Have a Place in the Newsroom?

Some thoughts on how this could develop:

Starting with trying to write story #1: I’ll be asking some leading lights in the misinformation field about what examples they’ve heard. Also, major think tanks (Poynter, Knight Digital Media Center, etc). and fact checkers. Next, on to editors to ask if they’ve applied any of these principles. Any leads gratefully received! This is really at an early exploratory stage. At this point the approach is very anecdotal, as I very much doubt there’s been a survey on this… though I’ll ask…

Story #2: I think this is a likely outcome. And while #1 is probably an easier write/read (everyone likes to read about interesting new practices that their colleagues/competitors have adopted), perhaps #1 #2 is truly where the conversation should start. In the literature, some researchers have offered advice on how journalists should apply their findings. That these findings should be applied ASAP may seem trivial.

But, could it not be argued that it is too soon to make changes based on the research? After all, we don’t approve drugs based on only a couple of trials. Perhaps we ought to tread carefully and wait for a more solid evidence base. (In fact, do we even have evidence that negations are ineffective corrections? Nyhan and Reifler couldn’t find it.)

Just think of a news organization trying to institute changes now, working at the usual lumbering page of a media corporation, and debuting their ground-breaking new model just as researchers find that they got some of their research absolutely wrong. On the other hand, some of the changes hardly seem to require years of reinvention… and on the other, other (!) hand, this is an industry in need of reinvention. In that process, surely it should incorporate researchers’ best available description of how people absorb and retain information.


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