Any good news in soft news? The impact of soft news preference on political knowledge

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239 Scopus citations


Several scholars, most notably Matt Baum, have recently argued that soft news formats contribute to democratic discourse, because they attract viewers who would otherwise not be exposed to news at all. I extend Baum's approach in two ways. First, Baum's theory postulates that people's appreciation of entertainment is one of the factors determining news exposure and, by extension, attention to politics, but he does not analyze the underlying utility calculation directly. I create a measure of entertainment preference and examine its impact on people's preferred news formats. Second, while Baum's analysis is restricted to attention paid to politics, I assess the effect of soft news preference on political knowledge. If soft news leads people to pay more attention to the "entertaining" aspect of politics, but does not actually produce any learning effects, the suggested positive consequences of soft news would have to be qualified. The main data source for this article is a survey of 2,358 randomly selected U.S. residents conducted by Knowledge Networks in February and March 2002. Results show that people like soft news for its entertainment value but that soft news programs are still not very popular compared to hard news and pure entertainment. More critically, there is only very limited evidence that viewers actually learn from soft news. The positive consequences of soft news for the political process remain to be demonstrated.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)149-171
Number of pages23
JournalPolitical Communication
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2003
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Communication
  • Sociology and Political Science


  • Entertainment preference
  • Hard news
  • News preference
  • Political knowledge
  • Soft news


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