‘Research hasn’t been completed until it has been properly communicated.’ This is one of the great mantras of Prof. Sir Mark Walport, Chief Scientific Adviser to the UK government. What this means is that all research needs and deserves to be communicated to as wide an audience as possible, and published in an accessible format, in order to maximise its potential impact. To that end, we asked Lisa Matthias, who recently published her Master’s research with us at ScienceOpen, to tell us more about her work and what she found. Here’s her story!
Recently, I published my Masters thesis all about the politicization of US Supreme Court by partisan media. The background behind my research is that partisan news outlets cater their reports to specific partisan groups that have distinct ideological beliefs. These channels broadcast one-sided coverage, which constantly reinforces and strengthens their target audience’s political beliefs, while adopting a hostile position towards opposing views at the same time. This is most deeply highlighted in the US because of the highly polarising nature of the two-party political system.
To achieve such one-sided reporting, news stories are framed. Framing refers to how a story is told, and involves selecting and highlighting certain aspects of it, while others are explicitly neglected. The goal is to encourage a particular interpretation or evaluation of the presented information. Let’s take the Supreme Court’s ruling of legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide as an example. By shifting the audience’s focus to specific pieces of information, such as equal rights, religion, or opposing groups, the decision can be framed in terms of equality, morality, or conflict, respectively.
When people form an opinion they typically take into account all the information available to them. In the case of the Supreme Court, however, it is predominantly the media that provides that information, because the Court is generally detached from the public. This means the media has great control over the information that the public bases its opinion on about the Court and, therefore, the media also affects how the public perceives the Court. However, reporters are often left to interpret the Court’s decisions and to speculate about possible consequences, but they lack the intensive legal training that is essential to fully understand the Court’s highly specified rulings. In trying to make sense of the decisions, journalists might focus on the Justices’ personal and ideological views instead of on the legal reasoning behind the ruling. The consequence of all this is that media coverage of the Supreme Court has become increasingly politicized. On the other hand, the Court wants to convey an image of itself as an apolitical institution, which is described as being guided by legal principles, instead of personal interests, which is more characteristic of politicians.